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Preventing Middle School Nightmares: Trauma-Free Transition Tips

Does the thought of sending your child off to middle school make you anxious? If so, you’re certainly not alone. Many adults have middle school memories of social awkwardness, hormonal upheaval, and the added pressure of more responsibilities with a growing need for more independence.

Now think of your child experiencing these same anxieties! Whether your child is transitioning into middle school or junior high, these easy, practical tips can ease the adjustment.

How to start now:

  • Help your child prepare. Take advantage of summer transition courses, band and athletic camps, school tours, open houses, and study groups to help your child connect with other students and also spend time on campus. A sense of familiarity on that first day will be an advantage that will boost confidence.
  • Help your child master a lock. A long-time middle school principal insists this is the single most important thing parents can do to help relieve children’s anxieties. Buy a combination lock and get your child to master it. This may not seem like a big deal, but one of the biggest sources of anxiety for middle school kids is the fear of being unable to get into their locker. The ability to quickly and smoothly open a combination lock will go a long way toward easing those fears and building confidence.
  • Revisit the subject of bullying. Bullying tends to peak in the sixth grade, so this is the perfect time for a refresher course. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly a third of all middle and high school students reported being bullied at school in 2007.
  • Meet the counselors. This is important for both of you – especially if your child has any learning or social issues. Don’t wait for the professionals to come to you, or your child may slip through the cracks. Set up a meeting early and learn about services offered.
  • Get your child tested. Cognitive skills testing is one of the most important assessments any child can take, especially if that child struggles in school or with attention, memory, processing speed, or other underlying mental skills. A cognitive skills assessment can pinpoint weak skills, which studies show are responsible for up to 88 percent of learning struggles.

If a test identifies one or more weak skills, cognitive training can target and train those skills. One form of cognitive training is personal brain training, which incorporates immediate feedback, intensity, and loading, among other features, to target brain skills. Effective brain training customizes programs based on the results of an initial cognitive skills assessment and uses exercises founded on years of clinical and scientific research.

Unlike tutoring, which is academics-based, brain training is skills-based. While tutoring can be effective when a student has fallen behind in specific subjects (such as history) due to an illness, injury, or family move, cognitive skills training targets the underlying skills needed to perform tasks (like reading) that make learning easier in any subject.

When the school year starts:

  • Encourage participation. The more involved your child is in school and after-school activities, the more likely he or she will be to find friends, familiarity, and acceptance among different peer groups.
  • Stay engaged. Parental engagement tends to drop off dramatically in middle school even though studies show it improves academic achievement. A study from the nonprofit RAND Corporation shows most middle schools do too little to engage parents in the educational process, so you may have to work a little harder to get into the school and stay involved.
  • Offer help when needed. At this age, the frontal lobe – which controls strategizing, planning, organizing, and decision-making, among other things – is still developing. So don’t worry that you’re “babying” a teen or tween who needs a little extra help getting organized or planning.
  • Help your child become a self-advocate. Teachers at this level want to see kids advocating for themselves if they want to dispute a grade or need extra time to complete a project. Talk your child through how to approach his or her teachers and don’t be afraid to push some role-playing.

Before you know it, your worries of middle school being a nightmare will be over, and you’ll be ready to tackle the next transition to prevent high school horrors!