Middle school is complicated—just ask any tween. For kids who learn and think differently, the changes in routine and growing school demands can be even more stressful. Here are some things you can do ahead of time to help ease those first-day jitters for middle schoolers.
1. Talk about what’s scary. At this age, it can seem like kids think about themselves all the time, but that doesn’t mean they’re self-aware. They might not know yet what’s making them nervous, and they might have trouble expressing their feelings. Don’t wait for your child to start the dialogue. Instead, get the conversation going yourself by saying something like: “I see you’re a little stressed about starting school. Are you worried about moving between classes on your own?” or, “You had a hard time finding a group of kids you liked last year. Is that something you’re worried about this year?” If your child doesn’t know or doesn’t want to talk about it, don’t push it. Now that you’ve opened the door, your child may come back to talk to you about it at another time.
2. Make an action plan. Some middle schoolers worry they won’t have anyone to sit with at lunch, while others are concerned that kids will tease them if they have trouble with a certain subject. Coming up with an action plan ahead of time can help your child feel more confident. For example, have your child check with friends to see if any of them have the same lunch period, or learn more about bullying and how to help kids cope with it. Keep in mind that you might not be able to come up with a solution for everything your child is worried about. In those cases it can help to reach out to one of your child’s teachers or another trusted adult for advice.
3. Go over the class schedule together. If your child is starting middle school for the first time, talk through the class schedule together. Either way, let your child know that most teachers are understanding when kids show up a few minutes late to class during those first few days.
4. Remind your child that you’re there to help. Middle schoolers are expected to be more independent, but that doesn’t mean they’re on their own. Remind your child that you’re a team. For example, you can say, “If there’s something you’re having difficulty with, we’ll talk to the teacher and come up with a plan.”
5. Boost your child’s confidence. Lots of middle schoolers are hard on themselves; they might start the school year expecting to fail or worrying that other kids will think they’re not smart. You don’t need to downplay your child’s challenges, but it’s important to talk about your child’s strengths and passions, too. Give praise in a way that boosts your child’s confidence, and find ways to help your child stick with it when middle school gets tough.
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