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Adjusting to middle school can be a big deal. It’s a difficult period in life for just about any child, and a time that’s filled with a great deal of stress, changes, and shifting dynamics that can make navigating the middle school years downright difficult.
During middle school, children will face all kinds of new adjustments and new pressures. Not only will their academic load get heavier, but they will also need to learn to navigate to different classes in a new building and be more responsible for their schedules. Not to mention the social pressures in middle school are much more complicated than they were in elementary school as well.
For middle schoolers who are facing a move to a new town, these changes can be compounded. The stress of the move, not to mention the pressure of trying to fit in during an already-challenging time can be further exacerbated when having to walk into a school halfway through the year when everything’s already underway and friend groups and cliques have already been formed.
We’ve spoken to a number of education professionals and teachers across the United States who work with middle schoolers and asked them some questions on what transitioning to a new school looks like. They shared with us some tips on what support you can give your child when they’re moving into middle school –and also shared some advice on handling that major adjustment when it comes during the middle of the school year, as is often the case during a move.
With this in mind, here’s a look at some of the questions that we asked. Read on to get advice from the experts on helping your child to have a smoother transition into their new school –even if that transition takes place halfway through the school year.
Meet The Experts
- Amie Quintana – Teacher at Colorado STEM Academy in Westminster, Colorado
- Carol M. – Teacher at Littleton Public Schools in Littleton, Colorado
- Jennifer Motley – Care Team Member at Colorado SKIES Academy in Englewood, Colorado
- Sofia S. – 6th grade ELA Teacher at Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Miami, Florida
- Susan D. – Teacher at Options Secondary Program in Littleton, Colorado
Answers From The Experts
1. At which age do children (grades 6-8) tend to have the hardest time adjusting to a new school?
Expert opinions are divided on when, exactly, children have the most difficult time adjusting to a new school –but the general consensus that we gathered is that the hardest period of adjustment happens during the middle school and high school years.
Carol M., who teaches 6-8 grade at Littleton Public Schools says that ages 10-15 are when children have the hardest time adjusting to a new school, while Jennifer Motley, who is part of the care team at Colorado SKIES Academy says that 6th grade is the most difficult year. Meanwhile, Amie Quintana, a science teacher at Colorado STEM Academy says that 9-12 grades are the hardest. Meanwhile, Susan D., a teacher at Options, says that ages 12 and 14 are the hardest years to adjust to a new school.
2. At which age do children (grades 6-8) tend to have the easiest time adjusting to a new school?
So when do children have the easiest time adjusting to a new school?
“The younger, the better,” says Sofia S., a 6th grade ELA Teacher at Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
“Younger than 10,” agrees Carol. While Susan puts the easiest years at 8 and 10.
Quintana states that K-2 is the easiest time for a transition.
Still, a lot can be said for the child’s personality, their ability to make new friends, and how much support they get at home. For parents who are looking to help their child, the good news is that there’s a lot that you can do to help to make the transition a lot less stressful. By being there for your child, and supporting them, you can help to get them off to a great start –even if that start happens to be halfway through the year.
3. In which ways do you typically see stress, anxiety, or grief come out of children after they’ve started at a new school?
“Disassociating themselves,” says Sofia, is one way that you can tell that a child is stressed. Also, being disinterested or acting out in class for attention.
“Anger, lashing out, depression, overachieving, or underachieving,” says Motley. She also mentions isolation, and self-destructive tendencies and behavior as other warning signs to look out for.
“The kids are withdrawn or really quiet,” says Quintana. “They tend to hang by themselves.”
“Shut down, or overexcitability looking for attention,” says Susan. Also, “Acting out to look cool.”
4. How can parents/guardians work with teachers and/or school facilities to help support their child?
One way that parents or guardians can work with teachers to support their child is by getting involved with activities in the school, says Sofia. Also, “communicate with teachers/parents about the specific needs of the student,” she says.
“Talk to students about getting help if they need it,” shares Motley. “Don’t say things like ‘You’re too young to be depressed,’ ‘It’s not that big of a deal,’ ‘You’re just being dramatic,’ ‘You’re overreacting.’” Instead, she says that teachers should have places for students to talk about their struggles and look to be an ally for any student who needs their support.
For parents, especially if you’ve recently moved or if your child is undergoing a great deal of stress, your best option is to take a proactive approach. It’s important to be diligent when it comes to talking to your child –touch base with them regularly to see how they’re doing.
Stress and anxiety are common when it comes to making big changes, but it is important to keep an eye
on your child to make sure they’re not getting severely overloaded. You know your child best and if you start to notice behaviors or attitudes that aren’t normal for them you might want to sit them down for a conversation to see if there is something you can do to help alleviate the stress they are experiencing.
5. How should parents/guardians prepare children in advance of their first day at a new school?
It’s important to do research on the school, shares Sofia. “What is the school culture like? What are the expectations?” Helping to prepare your child for what’s in store can help them to feel more confident walking into the building for the first time.
“See if a tour is available to meet teacher or teachers and see the building,” advises Carol.
“If possible, have the schedule printed out and give students the chance to study the schedule as well as where their classes will be,” says Motley. “Help students get into the routine of school by waking at a consistent time.”
Taking a tour of the building and mapping out their classes and how long it takes to get to each class is a great way to help alleviate some stress of the unknown. By mapping out how long it takes to get from one class to another, knowing where each class is, and how to get there can help your child feel more prepared and less anxious.
Organization is an important skill that middle schoolers will need to master. Help your child set themselves up for success by organizing materials specific for each class. Changing classes is new for most middle schoolers and without much time to make the changes between classes, it can be stressful to get everything together for the right class in time. Consider organizing your child’s subjects by color to help them easily see which items they need. You might also consider helping them organize their backpack or locker according to class schedule so they can easily access what they need without having to dig too deep.
6. Beyond the first day of school, what challenges do children typically face in their first few months of school?
“Making new friends, catching up with the curriculum, attendance, and motivation,” shares Sofia.
“Drills, staff changes, class changes, new students coming or old students leaving, settling into a routine,” says Motley.
“They don’t know other kids, so sometimes they are not included in social activities like birthday parties or going to a friend’s house to hang out,” mentions Quintana.
“Knowing who their supports are –their trusted adults,” says Susan. “How to find them.”
Talking with your child is one of the best ways to help prepare them for the changes that are ahead. Ask them their concerns and worries but also be sure to also ask them what they are excited about and what they are looking forward to the most. Regardless of what they are feeling, be sure to reassure them that it is normal to have jitters and be nervous about starting new.
7. How does the experience of children who’ve relocated and enrolled in a new school mid-year (or any time after the school year has already started) differ from those that start brand-new on the first day?
“The students have to build new relationships with all their peers: teachers and students,” says Sofia. “The kids already have made their own friend groups, so it is hard to adjust to a whole new environment. Other students already know the routines and are adjusted to the school, while children who’ve relocated feel like they need to start all over.”
It can be difficult for a child who’s new in the middle of the year to form friendships as easily, and they may feel like an outsider since they won’t be aware of all the class dynamics that have formed while they were away.
“Students who begin in the middle of the year tend to have higher stress levels, and need more patience to acclimate to the new school environment,” shares Motley. “These students need more support on the mental health side, and may need in-class support to help them get into the routines.”
“On the first day of school, chances are higher that there might be another new kid as well and if not, the kids might still be new to each other so making friends might be a little easier,” Quintana says. “Mid-year kids usually already have their “friends” so it might be a little harder to find a group of friends to take you in.”
Stress and anxiety are common when it comes to making big changes, but it is important to keep an eye on your child to see how they’re adjusting to the new school. You know your child best and if you start to notice behaviors or attitudes that aren’t normal for them you might want to sit them down for a conversation to see if there is something you can do to help alleviate the stress they are experiencing.
Don’t underestimate or downplay the feelings your middle schooler will be feeling, help them work through their fears, and reassure them that their anxieties are normal. If your child doesn’t seem to be adjusting well after a few weeks, you might consider talking with the school counselor or teachers or even seeking outside counseling to give your child the tools and support that they need to thrive.
8. What is your biggest piece of advice for parents/guardians who are currently moving or will move and enroll their child in a new school?
“Get involved with the school, PTSA, and communicate with your child about your expectations, and their expectations as a student,” urges Sofia.
Getting your child involved with sports or activities outside of school can help build and strengthen relationships and form friendships. Oftentimes, meeting their fellow students in a context that’s outside of school can help them to forge a connection that otherwise wouldn’t have been formed. Enroll your child in after-school activities to help them connect with their peers in a different environment.
“Go slow to go fast,” says Carol. “Understand that there will probably be difficult days.”
“Listen to your students when they say that they are stressed, moving (especially at a middle school age) is almost 5 times more traumatic and students at this age need time to completely process change,” advises Motley.
“Make sure to check in with your child daily and ask how their day was and keep an eye out to see if they seem to have made friends with at least one new person by the first few weeks,” says Quintana.
Remember, changing schools can be a stressful time: for middle schoolers –and parents alike. Don’t underestimate or downplay their feelings. Your youngster is starting to enter the years where they’ll begin the journey of transitioning into a grown-up. On one hand, they need a measure of independence during this stage, but in many ways, they also need you to be more involved than ever. Your biggest job now is to help show them the way and give them the tools that they need to start mastering important skills and forging their path themselves. By being there for them, talking to them, and most importantly listening to what they’re saying, you can help to give them a tremendous advantage when it comes to transitioning into this new stage in life.
Moving to a new school can be a stressful time, but with plenty of patience, you can help your middle schooler adjust. One of the best ways that you can do this is by freeing yourself up from a few of those stressful and time-consuming tasks that you have on your plate. Fortunately, packing and moving is something that can easily be outsourced. By finding a reputable moving company that you can entrust this task to, you’ll be able to free yourself up from this time-consuming project and claim back more time to spend with your child.
See our round-up of the best long distance movers and find someone that you can entrust with your move today.
Have a question or comment regarding this article? Email Kara Griffin at email@example.com