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How to help your child transition from middle school

Is your middle schooler promoting and moving on to high school? It may seem like a seamless transition, but the changes high school brings can be anything but easy. What should parents know before that first day of high school arrives?

Young highschoolers |

Photo credit: Steve Debenport/iStock/360/Getty Images

Middle school can be a difficult time for both parents and kids, so when it comes time to move on to high school, many parents breathe a sigh of relief. But this new transition also brings challenges you may not be prepared for. We asked experts what parents can do to make the move to high school smooth.

Put him in charge

One of the most important things to remember is that your teen isn’t a little sixth grader with a backpack anymore. Gone are the days when parents need to be involved in the day-to-day process of school. “Encourage autonomy and self-advocacy,” shares Alexandra Mayzler, author and founder of Thinking Caps Group. “The move to high school means a lot less guidance from teachers and more onus on students. Talk to your child about taking the first step in talking to teachers,” she adds. “It’s important that high school students know to take initiative and meet with teachers before problems arise.”

Hopefully your teen developed good study habits during middle school and can expand on them in high school, where classes are harder and the homework load can be overwhelming. “Students will get more homework than they did when they were in middle school, so they have to study more,” shares Elizabeth Venturini, who works as a college career strategist. “Parents should help their teens cultivate good study habits while in middle school so they will be well-prepared to handle high school classes. Ask the high school where your teen will be attending if your teen can sit in on a couple of classes so they can see and experience the difference of how a high school class is taught,” she adds. Many parents find that “letting go” of constantly watching grades and asking about assignments is difficult for them, but it’s important for your teen to take control of her future.

Fitting in and finding her space

Many high schools have more than one middle school feeding into them, and are subsequently much larger than what your teen is used to. For a small freshman in a big pond, the crowd can feel overwhelming. “Teens stress over not being part of the ‘in crowd’ in high school,” says Venturini. “Encourage your teen to just be themselves and not get caught up in trying to be coolest kid in the room.” She shares that teens can find friends that have the same interests by getting involved in activities such as sports, music, drama, arts and clubs. “This also has the hidden benefit of building up your teen’s extracurricular list for future college applications,” she adds.

“High school is a much easier place for teens to express their individuality,” says Aneechia Dixon, who works as a teen success coach. “Even though there are many more students, it is also the ideal place to find others that are similar to them. This is where you find cliques develop due to similar taste in clothes, music and activities.” Spend some time brainstorming with your teen about things that he enjoys that might be a good starting point for new friendships. It may not even be something obvious, but maybe he is interested in the mock trial teamor joining the yearbook staff, or he likes to play ultimate Frisbee. Many high schools allow students to form their own clubs for interests that aren’t represented.

Close the gaps

High school coursework is obviously going to be harder than in middle school, but if your child struggles in a particular area, use the summer wisely to get extra help. “It’s important to make sure that your child doesn’t have any gaps with reading comprehension, vocabulary and math,” says Mayzler. “If there are areas of vulnerability, use the summer before ninth grade to patch any holes.” Students might sign up for a summer school course, hire a tutor or work with online resources to be more prepared for the high school curriculum.

Summer is also a good time to help your teen think about study and organizational skills that work best for him. Does he work best in a quiet space, or with music on? When would be the best time to do homework, right after school or after dinner? “In high school, students are expected to juggle multiple classes with multiple teachers and tons of demands,” adds Mayzler. “To keep all the balls in the air, students must have great organization and time management skills.”

Make a mental map

Remember that first day of school? Chances are, you remember how utterly huge the high school campus was — maybe you even got lost once or twice. To help your teen get ready for that first day, have her visit the campus ahead of time, map in hand. “For most teens, the sheer size of a high school can be overwhelming,” shares Venturini. “To help your teen make the transition, try and visit the high school ahead of time. If you can, walk the campus so your teen knows ahead of time the location of the administration building, library, lockers, classrooms, cafeteria, gym and restrooms.” Let your teen do this on his own, or let him know you’re happy to walk along if he wants you there.

Spend some time this summer getting your teen prepared for high school, and the transition in the fall will be smooth.

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