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Starting Strong: Making the Middle School to High School Transition

Even if your child is reluctant to admit it, we all know that transitioning from middle school to high school can be a scary and intimidating experience.  After all, she’s going from ruling the hallways to once again being the little guy on campus.  Moreover, she’ll likely be navigating a whole new building, including new teachers and a new curriculum.  And perhaps most important, the grades she earns will truly have an impact on her future.  Of course, to assuage her fears, assure her that there’s plenty to look forward to (more academic freedom, prom, driver’s ed., etc.).  Here is a list of ways you can help her through this transition.

Make sure both you and your child establish a relationship with her guidance counselor.  This relationship is critical as it will likely persist from freshman year to high school graduation. The counselor knows the school, make sure he (or she) knows your child as well. The better the counselor knows your child, the more targeted his/her advice will be.  

Encourage your child to visit the high school before the academic year begins (ideally once she’s received her freshman schedule).  Make sure she knows how to get to all her classes, the cafeteria and the bathrooms.  Familiarity will give her a boost of confidence on her first day.   

Motivate your child to get involved!  Joining a club or trying out for a sport can be nerve-wracking, especially if you don’t know anyone else, but freshman year, everyone is in the same boat.  Signing up for say, Amnesty International or drama club, will allow her to meet new people, expand her social circle and explore new passions.  She will also likely hone her communication and leadership skills.  Extracurricular activities also offer another avenue in which to shine, particularly important for kids who might not be academically inclined.  

Encourage your child to make new friends (and get to know them yourself!). As kids leave middle school and enter high school it’s natural for some friendships to end. While you’ll want to encourage your child to maintain healthy, positive friendships, you’ll also want to assure her that making new friendships is okay too. Whether old or new, friends provide essential peer support. For your part, ask your child to introduce you to any new friends she has made.

Get to know other parents. Just as your child will benefit from a strong peer group, you will too. Becoming friends with other parents with similarly-aged kids will give you an opportunity to share stories and insights. Simply put, it’s just nice to know you’re not alone.

Work to help your child set goals at the start of the school year.  Listen, your child’s high school transcript matters (yes – even her freshman year grades).  Therefore, you want to make sure she doesn’t slack and start off on the wrong foot. Setting goals, even modest ones, will help her stay focused and ensure she has something to work towards.

Don’t expect a seamless transition.  It takes time to settle into new places and situations.  Don’t let your child (or yourself) become frustrated or panicked at the fact that she doesn’t feel completely comfortable one or two weeks into the school year.  Urge her to just relax, take a deep breath and recognize that (hopefully) each day gets a little better and a little easier.   

Keep the lines of communication open. As we mentioned above, there will be bumps along the way. While you want to encourage your child to solve problems and resolve conflicts on her own, recognize that some issues may require parental involvement. Learn to recognize signs, some subtle and some not, that your child may be struggling and make sure she knows she can come to you for support.


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Don Munce