New challenges kids face in middle school

ByAmanda Morin

At a glance

  • Middle-schoolers travel between classes on their own and store their books in lockers.

  • Middle-schoolers usually have a different teacher for each subject.

  • Students in middle school face more social pressure and often worry about their ability to fit in and make friends.

The transition from grade school to middle school can be tough for any tween. Academic expectations and social interactions increase. And some of these changes can create unique challenges for kids with learning and thinking differences. Here’s a closer look at some of the challenges kids face in middle school.

Different classroom and school structure

One of the biggest challenges for middle-schoolers is adjusting to a new learning environment. The school itself may be larger. There’s also a shift in how classes are held.

In elementary school, kids may have had one or two teachers for core subjects. In middle school, though, the number of teachers may double. It’s not uncommon for kids to have different teachers for science, math, English, and other subjects. They may also have other teachers for special classes (like art, physical education, and music).

Each teacher may have slightly different classroom expectations. This can be hard to get used to for kids who have trouble following social cues. Teaching your child ways to recognize social rules and to self-advocate can be helpful.

Your child may also have to switch classrooms between classes. Navigating a new school can be tough, especially for middle-schoolers with . Consider taking a tour of the school ahead of time. Then you can map out the schedule with the most direct routes from class to class.

Kids will also have to keep track of time and perhaps even get materials from their locker before the next class. For kids who struggle with , these increasing demands on organization and time management skills can be overwhelming.

You can help by asking your child to create a locker organization system. If possible, adding items like shelves and section dividers can solve some of the organization problems. You can also plan out locker stops and indicate them on the schedule.

New academic expectations

Not only do middle-schoolers have more teachers, they’re also expected to be more independent learners than in grade school. Kids may be assigned more homework and long-term projects. Knowing how to gather information from reputable sources and present it in their own words is important. And since they’ll have multiple teachers, the amount of homework and projects may not be evenly spread out.

Kids are also expected to take notes in class. If your child has  or visual processing issues, or struggles with processing speed or working memory, that can pose a challenge. Kids may benefit from using very specific note-taking strategies or note-taking apps.

If your child struggles with written expression or has , writing essays and keeping up with reading assignments can be a challenge, too. Tools like graphic organizers and audiobooks can help.

These increased academic requirements require critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. That can be particularly difficult for kids who have trouble with executive function. They may need support in learning how to break big projects into smaller chunks. Board games and video games can be fun ways to build critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, too.

New social expectations

Middle school is a time of major social growth. Going from being the oldest students in elementary school to the youngest in middle school can be scary. Your child is expected to be more independent than in grade school. At the same time, kids may deal with cliques or bullies, or worry about being lonely.

But being in a larger school with new kids also gives your child an opportunity to make new friends. You can help by role-playing common social situations and teaching ways to connect to other kids.

Remind your child that middle school gives kids a chance to explore interests and passions. Middle school clubs and extracurricular activities are good places to find kids who have similar interests.

Keep in mind that if your child already has trouble picking up on social cues, middle school socializing may be hard. This may be a good time to start discussing social boundaries and secrets with your child. (You may also want to take a look at tips for reducing risky behavior.)

How to help your middle-schooler

If your child has an (IEP) or a , try to meet with the case manager in the spring before middle school starts. That way you can begin building a relationship with someone who understands your child’s challenges.

You can also set up a time for your child to meet the teachers before school begins. If that’s not possible, work together on a back-to-school letter or a 3×3 card to help teachers get to know your child and understand how to support any needs.

It may take some time for your child to get used to middle school. Do your best to show empathy and respond to frustration in a calm manner. If your child is still struggling to adjust after the first month or so, you may want to schedule a meeting with the teachers.

It may take you some time to get used to having a child in middle school, too. School staff may not try to get to know parents as much as they did in grade school. There may be different rules than there were at your child’s grade school. And policies, like those around tardiness and absences, may be adhered to more strictly.

Key takeaways

  • It may take time for your child to get used to middle school.

  • Try to visit the school at least once with your child before school starts.

  • Meet with teachers before school starts or during the first month of school to review your child’s learning needs or IEP.

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About the author

About the author

Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days. 

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Bob Cunningham, EdM serves as executive director of learning development at Understood.