Middle school is complicated — just ask any tween. And for kids who learn and think differently, the changes in routine and growing school demands can be stressful. This year may be even more stressful if kids are returning to in-person school after learning from home for so long.
Here are things you can do ahead of time to help ease those first-day jitters.
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. You can say 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 about it at another point.
2. Make an action plan.
Some kids worry they won’t have anyone to sit with at lunch. Or 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 teasing 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. Then visit the school and practice walking from class to class. (Kids returning to middle school might want another walk-through, too.) Either way, let your child know that most teachers are understanding when kids show up a few minutes late to class — especially during those first few days.
You can also follow these steps to prepare your child for changes to routine. Try these locker tips, too.
4. Remind your child that you’re there to help.
Kids are expected to be more independent in middle school. That doesn’t mean they’re on their own, though. Remind your child that you’re a team. For example, you can say, “If there’s too much homework, 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. And tweens who learn and think differently can be especially hard on themselves. They might start the school year expecting to fail or worrying that other kids will think they’re not smart.
About the author
About the author
The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.
Mark J. Griffin, PhD was the founding headmaster of Eagle Hill School, a school for children with specific learning disabilities.