As we walked through Target last week, my husband and I watched the clerks make room for school supplies. “Summer’s almost over,” he teased. “Time for back to school!”
If you have a brand-new middle schooler, chances are good that as summer wanes, school has been on both her mind and yours for longer than the school supplies have been out. The transition from elementary to middle school is a scary one for parents and students alike. There will be more pressure, more students, more homework, more everything. It’s easy to stress about what might happen, but for most students the transition goes more smoothly than expected.
Here are a few tips to ease their way (and yours):
If your middle schooler hasn’t already walked the halls, stop by this summer and ask for a tour. While visiting when students are present is best, having a mental picture of classrooms and hallways is helpful. And knowing where the bathrooms are is a must! Having a mental picture makes everything less scary. There may be a teacher or two on campus, but if not, getting to know the office staff is beneficial, especially if you have a scheduling problem or illness.
Buy Most – But Not All – Supplies
Nothing ruins your first day of middle school like being made fun of for your choice of binder. Some kids won’t care, but for others, a casual “You have a Harry Potter notebook? Seriously?” will be devastating. I’ve seen kids teased for pencil choices, pencil pouches, and lunch bag characters. If yours is the kind of kid who wants to fit in by not being singled out, either choose neutral options or wait and see what’s popular this year. Then determine whether it fits into your budget.
Get Familiar with the Dress Code
Middle school is when many students become fashion conscious. While they may want to dress like their favorite YouTubers, every school has rules about what to wear. Even schools with uniforms have some leeway regarding colors, skirt style, shoes, hair length, etc. It’s uncomfortable for both teacher and student when someone shows up in unacceptable attire and has to be sent to the office. If you’re sure you know the rules, stand your ground; don’t cop out by saying, “Fine–I’ll just let the school deal with you!”
Let Them Talk
When your middle schooler expresses his fears about what’s coming, don’t jump in and try and make him feel better. He’s trusting you to understand, and he doesn’t want you to negate his feelings by saying, “What’s there to be afraid of? You’ll do fine!” When she says she knows everyone is going to hate her and she won’t make any friends, don’t put her off by telling her she’s just being silly. Saying, “I remember how scary that was” or “New situations make me nervous, too” lets your middle schooler know you’ve heard the feelings and understood them. Learn to respond with empathy, and you’ll hear more throughout the year.
Most parents and students will tell you those first few days were crazy, but not as bad as they’d feared. Taking a few proactive steps can help calm everyone’s nerves, but rest assured that by the end of the first week, middle schoolers will be feeling pretty comfortable with the whole experience.
Until they learn the word “midterms.”
For more tips, including a “Get-Ready Checklist,” check out Chapter 13, “Not So Brave in the New World,” in our book, available below.
Sue Acuña is co-author with Cynthia Tobias of Middle School, The Inside Story: What Kids Tell Us But Don’t Tell You, available from your favorite bookseller or by clicking here. Sue currently teaches middle school at Concordia Christian Academy in Tacoma, WA.