Supporting Your Child’s Transition to Middle School

3 min read
a middle school girl wearing a backpack

The transition from elementary to middle school is an exciting and big change in any student’s life. They have to adjust to new classrooms and schedules, and even sometimes new buildings or classmates. This change in routine can be disruptive to kids, especially for those who have ADHD or autism. For you to better understand what your child may be feeling, it’s important to recognize the challenges they may face. In doing so, you can navigate these uncharted waters and ensure your child’s adjustment to school. Even though the new school year is already underway, there’s still time to help your child process what they’ve learned about their new environment and ensure they have the necessary support going forward.

5 Tips for Helping Kids Transition to Middle School

1. Prepare and Follow Up

The transition to middle school can feel significant when a child doesn’t fully understand the change. The start of a new school year is the perfect time to discuss what exactly will change about their school experience. If they are switching schools or buildings, it can be helpful to tour the location beforehand if possible. Finally, be sure to go over your child’s class schedule with them in-depth and make sure they feel comfortable asking any questions they may have.

When possible, see if you can also set up meetings with your child’s teachers before school starts or within the first few weeks of the term starting. Have your child accompany you so that they can get more comfortable with their teacher and ask any questions that they may be nervous to ask on their own. It can also help to set up a meeting with the guidance counselor to discuss any documented learning plans or support needs your child might have. The guidance counselor can also be a valuable resource as students settle in over the first few weeks of the school year.

2. Organize and Plan

Organization is key when it comes to a successful school year. This is even more essential for children with ADHD or autism, who may struggle with executive functioning. Add organizers to your child’s locker, like hanging racks or shelf dividers. You should also shop for a backpack with dividers and help them minimize excess notebooks and supplies throughout the school year. It’s beneficial to wait for individual teachers’ supply lists to find out what students will actually use instead of buying supplies as soon as they go on sale.

Building smart organizational tactics into your family’s daily habits can also be helpful. This can include things like a shared calendar with projects that your child is working on and any homework that needs to be done each day. In addition to electronic-based calendars and tools, it’s beneficial to double up with a paper organizer or calendar. This way, your child can cross off items throughout the day. 

Organization can also include things like creating a schedule and sticking to it. A great way to help your child build confidence—and feel less alone—when tackling their homework is to complete some of your own job- or home-related activities alongside them. Whether that means catching up on a household chore or working on a project of your own, you can model the benefits of sticking to a schedule.

3. Create Healthy Study Habits

While it’s easy to set aside an hour or two for studying, it’s hard to stay focused for that amount of time. Help your child find a rhythm that works for them, such as 20 minutes of studying/working and then 5–10 minutes of doing something else. Try to avoid electronics, like phones and gaming devices, for the “unfocused” time to reduce the risk of overstimulation. 

In addition to time spent studying, also consider where your child does their work. Try to make the area as distraction-free as possible, while still being comfortable. A flat surface and supportive chair are important, as is good lighting.

4. Set Goals for the School Year

Goal setting is an essential aspect of solidifying positive habits. Encourage your child to come up with some overall, and realistic, goals for the school year. Once you have these, work with them to create sub-goals that will help them achieve these bigger goals. For example, if they strive to get an A in a certain subject, then they should have some sub-goals of doing a certain amount of studying each week.

5. Consider Executive Function Coaching

For kids with executive function disorders, middle school can seem daunting. With the right plan and modifications, though, your child will be successful. In addition to the above habits, having an executive function coach work one-on-one with your child can help them to become more motivated, set goals, and create plans for their success. These coaches will work through issues prevalent with ADHD and autism and create an effective strategy for your child. 

While middle school may seem like a big hurdle, it’s really just the next step on your child’s journey. With the right planning, it’ll be exciting and rewarding!

Casey Schmalacker

Casey Schmalacker, Vice President at New Frontiers, is a seasoned leader in marketing, sales, and business development. With a dual degree in Government and Law and Economics from Lafayette College, he has spent the past 10 years coaching students, adults, and organizations to improve executive functions, soft skills, and workplace performance. Casey’s approach is rooted in strategic development and a passion for personalized coaching, emphasizing a culture of continuous improvement.

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