The Next Big Step: Making the Transition to Middle School

As surprising as it may seem, your baby is getting ready for middle school. While you may still see a tiny little person when you look at your kiddo, the rest of the world sees an almost teenager. How do you get your child ready for life after elementary school? What are the middle-school-level equivalents of shoe-tying and name-writing?

Here are a few things to remember in the count-down to sixth grade:

Middle school friendships are not only based on being in the same class.

During middle and high school, kids will meet hundreds of new people and form new relationships. Choosing friends who help them make wise choices is an important life skill. Licensed clinical professional counselor Phyllis Fagell recommends asking your child these questions: Do you have fun and laugh with this person? Can you be yourself? Is there trust and empathy?

Finding the right friend group might require patience. A long-time middle school counselor assures parents that kids will eventually find their spot. Some just find their spot more quickly than others—Don’t give up! Allow time for connections to happen naturally. Remind your child that she might need to venture out of her comfort zone to meet their people. Clubs and groups can be a good place to start. If this is a bit rocky at first, help your child connect with her counselor or another trusted adult in the building who could assist in facilitating some connection.

Middle schools really expect kids to be independent learners.

You are no longer the primary point of communication between your family and the school.  Most information will be delivered directly to your child. Take some time before school starts to coach your kid about how to access this communication and keep it organized. Talk about how often someone should check their email or messages. Remember, your son or daughter probably hasn’t worked in an office and won’t know the unwritten rules of organizational communication.

Speaking of organization, figure out a calendar that will work for your child.

Your school may provide a planner that they want each student to use. If not, take a trip to the office supply store or look around online to find a tool that will work for your kid.  Google calendar might be a good place to start.

Some schools have adopted a learning management system like Blackboard or Canvas. Encourage your child to find her way around the platform. While she may be a gaming technology guru, she might need help figuring out how to use technology in a non-entertainment way. Our kids gained lots of experience with learning technology over the last year. Applying this learning to middle school classes and meeting middle school expectations might still be a challenge.

This summer is a great time to begin working toward greater independence.

Brainstorm with your child about skills needed to be successful in middle school and then build a plan to develop those skills. Your kiddo will be more invested in this process if she feels ownership in the list. Asking for help from an older student might be a good way to create interest.

Starting middle school is a big deal.

It’s one of the most significant transitions your child will make. Ever. I don’t say that to create panic but rather to emphasize the importance of this shift.

Of course, your kid won’t be on her own at school to sink or swim. Middle school teachers want kids to be successful and are available to help. Should your child encounter bumps in the road, encourage her to talk to a teacher or counselor before you jump in to solve her problems. And ask questions. When—or better yet, if—you contact a teacher, start with a question: How can I help my daughter figure this out? What can she do to solve this problem? How have other kids navigated this? Do you have any suggestions for us?

And remember, it is a transition for you both, especially if you are a first-time middle school parent. So take a deep breath. You and your child can do this.





Beth is mom to a high school sophomore and a first year college student. After fourteen years as a professional writer and editor, she earned graduate degrees in counseling and play therapy. Now she exercises her creativity as a school counselor. Beth loves reading, especially mysteries.