Whether your child is entering middle school or junior high this year, chances are they’re a little nervous. After all, middle school is the big(ger) leagues, with a larger student body, unfamiliar campus, new teachers and staff, and yes … locker rooms.
As a parent, you’re stressed, too. Your kid is growing up and it’s weird on your heart.
But that’s not all.
There’s also a lot of chatter among parents about this scary new transition. You keep hearing that middle school determines the type of crowd your kid will fall into (clearly not much has changed since we were kids). Then there’s that kid a grade ahead (you know the one) who did that bad thing all the kids won’t stop talking about — what if that’s your kid next year? And wait, didn’t you read somewhere that middle school performance determines high school placement, which can ultimately influence college acceptance?!
Before you cue the panic button, allow me — a fellow mom who worried her entire way through middle school — to offer these 12 things I only wish someone (anyone) would have told me:
1. Unpack your own middle school baggage.
Listen, we all have it. Whether it was that horrible rumor that haunted your preteen years or that embarrassing period stain EVERYONE in homeroom noticed, we owe it to our kids to process our personal adolescent fears and anxieties and put them aside so we don’t pass them on.
2. Your kid might struggle.
While I never thought six teachers with six different sets of expectations were going to be easy on my son, I never, ever expected his transition to be so hard. While I’m proud to say he eventually found his footing, that first trimester will forever be known in our home as “the dark period.” Be patient.
3. Your kid probably doesn’t want your help …
… unless they ask for it. Oh, what a cruel parenting joke. Now that we’re all armed with grading system apps that track our kid’s every academic move in real time, it’s nearly impossible not to offer help in response to every low grade, missing assignment, or general downward trend (yes, it even shows trends!).
My advice? Be around. Make help available. Worry behind the scenes and then just … wait. Your child will appreciate the trust you place in them to handle their school business, while also knowing help is available.
4. Your kid might actually love middle school.
No, really. Between my own horrible junior high history and the popularity of books like Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, I assumed middle school was just one of those rites of passage we all had to just … I don’t know … survive. But a lot of kids do more than simply survive middle school — they downright thrive.
So while you may not think to expect the very best, don’t assume the very worst, either. Middle school can actually be pretty awesome. (Apparently.)
5. You might lose your parenting village.
When your kid said goodbye to elementary school, you probably didn’t know you were also saying goodbye to the parents who supported you and your student along the way. Gone are the days of school recon, through chats at drop-off and pick-up. Gone are the parents you can text for pictures of homework your kid forgot to bring home. Gone are the class parties and chaperone opportunities that earned you a little extra face time with your child’s teacher. There’s no doubt that middle school can sometimes feel … well, a bit lonely.
6. Get involved with high school now.
I know what you’re thinking: “But my kid is only in 6th grade!” Yes, I know; and in just a few short years, your rising freshman might have rising fears associated with an even larger school campus and student body.
To mitigate this risk, consider spending some time at your child’s future high school. Go to a football game, buy a ticket to the holiday play, and check out club activities held there that might be open to the community. The more time your child spends at their future high school, the more likely they are to get involved with extracurricular activities as a freshman. (Plus, their new campus won’t feel nearly as scary if they’ve been visiting it for years.)
7. It’s all going to be OK.
If you’re worried that your kid won’t be able to find their classroom, open their locker, or run the mile, relax. If you’re stressed that your son or daughter is going to forget their homework, lunch, or P.E. clothes, breathe easy. Spoiler alert: They probably will — and it’s all going to be OK.
Kids are resilient, resourceful, and really good at making us sweat the small stuff. But before you run to the rescue, consider this: A few forgotten lunches and homework assignments might not ruin their future, but they’re probably enough to teach them valuable lessons in responsibility.
8. Get in the spirit.
When it comes to middle education, a sense of belonging is half the battle. That’s why the spring before my friend’s son transitioned to junior high, she surprised him with a little “spirit wear” in the form of a baseball cap emblazoned with his new school’s name. Her rising 7th-grader wore his new hat all summer long, and by the time school started, this kid was packing more than new folders and pens — he was packing school pride.
9. They may not be ready for all of it right away.
Classrooms aren’t the only things changing in middle school. Changing bodies and new emotions can make big social events a real struggle for some kids. As much as I wanted my introverted son to let loose and have fun at at least one school dance, he flat out refused. In truth, he just wasn’t ready to bust a move in the middle of the school gym the way he does with reckless abandon in high school today.
10. Middle school is good practice.
My son and I both did a lot of growing in those awkward middle years. Back then, my son practiced losing, winning, trying, surviving, procrastinating, organizing, managing, persistence, self-advocacy, and independence. Of course, while all of that was going on, I practiced worrying, hoping, crying, trying, helping, holding on tighter, and finally, letting go. None of it was easy and nearly all of it was confusing, but I realize now just how important those practice years were — for both of us.
11. Your kid will still act like a kid.
By the time your kid reaches middle school, they’re behaving a bit older and wiser. As such, you begin trusting them more and more. That is, until they do something totally ridiculous that has you questioning everything you thought you understood about their maturity level. The explanation for this phenomenon is all very scientific, involving frontal lobe connection and such, but take heart in knowing that it’s all a very normal (and yes, frustrating) part of development.
12. Your kid will surprise you.
Just when you think your kid will always act like a wild child, they’ll surprise you with incredible moments of maturity and insight that you simply never saw coming. Whether they handle a new problem like a pro, help without being asked, or offer advice better than any therapist could, you’ll wonder: Who is this super cool person?
Your awesome kid, that’s who.