When August arrives, your soon-to-be middle schooler might feel anxious about what to expect. Helping your child prepare for the transition to middle school doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Engage in these intentional conversations this summer to reduce heavy feelings and provide reassurance.
Conversations to Start with Your Middle Schooler
Help your student manage expectations.
Check-in with your soon-to-be middle schooler about the story he or she is creating in his or her mind about what to expect when school begins. Is your student convinced that he’ll never memorize a locker combination? Is your student certain that she’ll never make new friends? While the building and most of the people will be new, reassure your student that they’ve successfully completed at least six years of school already and next year will prove no different.
Conversation starter: What do you think middle school is going to be like?
Help your student accept disappointment.
Your student is entering middle school, not necessarily engaging in an articulately curated experience. In other words, you probably won’t get everything you ask for. The class schedule may not include their top choices. They might not be in any classes with their best friend. You might think their locker is a tad too far from some of their classrooms. Before swooping in and trying to fix the problem, consider the benefit of helping your child overcome disappointment. A class where they know no one is an opportunity to make new friends. A schedule that includes their second or third option is an opportunity to still learn something new. A locker further away from some of their classrooms is an opportunity to add a couple of steps to their day and practice time management.
Conversation starter: I know you were hoping for different results, talk to me about the possible positives this could provide?
Help your student by assisting in planning.
Even the most confident student can quickly unravel when put in a situation that overwhelms him or her. Collaborate with your student to make a plan for the logistics of entering middle school. What will pick-up and drop-off look like? If your student needs to call you in the middle of the day, what is the best way to handle that? What time will they need to be ready in the morning? What does bedtime look like for those in middle school? How exactly will the new tuba travel to and from school each day? Ask your child what questions they have leading up to the first day of school and help them find the answers.
Conversation starter: What questions do you have about middle school that we haven’t discussed yet?
Help your student by listening.
Big experiences are usually accompanied by big emotions. Encourage your child to talk about what they are thinking and feeling by creating a space free of judgment, criticism, or evaluation. Approach their concerns and comments with a sense of curiosity. When your child tells you they are nervous, don’t immediately respond with all of the reasons why they shouldn’t feel nervous. Instead, label the emotion: “What I hear you saying is that you’re feeling nervous about the first day of school.” Validate their experience: “It’s perfectly normal to feel nervous when starting something new.” Offer affirmation: “Can you tell me about the last time you were able to conquer your nervousness?”
Conversation starter: When you think about starting middle school, what thoughts or feelings do you have?
Having these conversations before the school year begins can help your student feel more prepared. The middle school years offer a time of exponential maturity and development. There will be good and bad days. Growth is not a linear trajectory.