I see you, first day of school. Looming in the second half of August, just hanging out. Waiting to be recognized by teachers, parents, and students. Some might have had this date circled since May, while others are still pretending you’re a ways off. However you’re looked at, there you wait. And sooner or later it’s going to be your turn.
As a teacher, I like the first day of school like I like the first snow of winter. It’s exciting, it’s fresh, and it creates a lot of energy. Then, it’s over. And when it’s done we remember what comes with it: the busyness, the anxiety, the extra planning, and a whole season of ups and downs that depend on something out of our control.
If your child’s first day of school this year will be at a middle school, I want to extend extra love to you and him or her. As though the preteen years aren’t difficult enough in their own skin, many middle school students move buildings, join students from other elementary schools, and are thrown into a new set of teachers, expectations, and peers. It is a lot for these kids. A lot.
My hope is to share with you some ideas to ease the transition and support your child AND you because like all changes, this one can be tricky. And, just like the snow, although a lot of it may be out of your control, you can be as prepared as possible.
Middle School Transition
Set Check-In Times
So often, I hear from parents about their child shutting down in middle school and not talking to them as much. I can assure you that 1) this is normal and 2) you can prepare for this.
Before the school year begins, have a conversation about what your communication will look like when things get tough. Give them ownership of their space, but make sure they know that answers such as, “I’m fine,” “Nothing,” and “I don’t know,” won’t be acceptable. This goes for the cell phones too. Set limits and turn in times where you get to go through their phone FOR THEIR SAFETY.
Try these ideas to keep the conversation rolling in your house:
- “What would you like me to do when I sense something is wrong? What will you do to let me know you’re being safe?”
- Set talking points for specific adults. Mom zones, dad zones, grandparent zones, etc. Sometimes it won’t be you that’s chosen for certain topics and that’s OK as long as they are connecting to someone.
- Get a “live” journal going. Middle school students STRUGGLE to find the right words to best express their thoughts and feelings. Share a journal back and forth. Many families are surprised at the success with this one.
- Whether it’s planned weekly or at any given time, you’ve got to be checking your child’s phone. You make sure they are safe while driving, so be sure they are safe using their phones.
Get to Know the School
Your child will likely be in a middle school for two to three years, five days a week, eight hours a day. Get to know the adults there. They are on your team and want the best for your child. If something is worrying you, ask your child’s counselor or homeroom teacher to be your extra eyes and ears. If you know your child looks up to or enjoys a specific teacher- TELL THAT TEACHER. Those of us who work in the middle school love this age and the ups, downs, and in-betweens, that go with it. Don’t hesitate to reach out and ask for other ideas or insight.
If possible, get to as many school events as possible. Get to know the school for yourself- not through the eyes of your child. Many schools host a variety of back to school, meet the teacher, curriculum, or conference nights in the fall. Go to as many as possible.
Make the Time
The number one reported want of adolescent students from their guardians is time. They want you, alone, all on their own. If you haven’t read about The Five Love Languages yet, do so. You can make it a special date, work on a project, or keep it simple with a walk, but be sure they know you are theirs for that time. Put your phone away and be present.
Middle school is tough.
It’s a mental mind game of physical and emotional changes paired with a never-ending flood of comparisons and judgment. Adolescents’ perception is their reality. What they think and feel in a moment is what they believe to be true.
Together we can do our best to be sure that perception shows someone is available to talk, care, and support. Be available, reach out to the school, and create time to communicate with your child and they will know they are loved.