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5 Tips for Calming First-Day Jitters in Middle School

By The Understood Team

48Found this helpful
48Found this helpful

Middle school is complicated—just ask any tween. But for kids with learning and attention issues, the changes in routine, growing academic demands and social pressures can make going back to school extra stressful. You can’t remove all the challenges (and drama) for your child. But there are things you can do ahead of time to ease first-day jitters.

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Help her identify what she’s nervous about.

Tweens are known for being self-absorbed, but that doesn’t mean they’re self-aware. Your child may not know what’s making her nervous. She might also have trouble expressing her feelings.

Instead of waiting for her, start the dialogue. You can say, “I see you’re a little stressed about starting school tomorrow. 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 she says she doesn’t know or doesn’t want to talk about it, don’t push it. Now that you’ve opened the door, she may come back to talk about it at another point.

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Brainstorm strategies.

Work together to come up with strategies for the first day. If she’s worried she won’t know anyone with the same lunch period as her, role-play how she can introduce herself to other kids, and what she might say next.

Or maybe she’s self-conscious about her accommodation to take tests in a separate classroom. Brainstorm ways she can explain to other kids why she needs help: “I have dyslexia, and I’m still working on some areas that are hard for me.”

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Go over her schedule and map out where her classes will be.

If it’s your child’s first year in middle school, pay a visit and walk through her schedule with her. If she’s returning to middle school, she may just need to size up where her new classes will be. Either way, let your child know that most teachers will be understanding if she shows up a few minutes late to class those first couple of days.

You can also follow steps to prepare your child for changes to routine. Try these locker organization tips, too.

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Reassure her that you’re still there to help.

In middle school, kids are expected to become more independent. Your child may feel like she’s supposed to take care of herself and may worry that she’ll be on her own to work things out if she’s struggling at school.

Talk about the supports and services she may be getting, even if they’re the same as last year. Encourage her to tell you, her teacher or her case manager if she’s having a hard time. And show her you’re a team: “We’ll talk to the teacher about adjustments if there’s too much homework.”

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Remind her of her strengths.

It’s not unusual for middle-schoolers to be self-critical. But tweens who face daily struggles at school can be especially hard on themselves. They may approach the start of the school year expecting to fail or worrying that other kids will think they’re not smart.

Don’t dismiss or downplay your child’s challenges. But help her consider her strengths and passions, too. Remind her that she can use them to work on the things she struggles with. And find ways to help her stick with it and stay motivated when middle school gets tough.

View the tips again

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It’s not uncommon for kids with learning and attention issues to “check out” at the end of the school year. Since they often face extra challenges in school, they may be understandably stressed out and tired from all the work they’ve put in already. And with summer vacation (and a break from schoolwork) in sight, they may become anxious—and even irritable.

You can help your child stay on track with her end-of-year assignments and tests. Use these tips to keep your grade-schooler from “checking out.”

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About the Author

Understood Team Graphic

The Understood Team is composed of writers, editors and community moderators, many of whom have children with learning and attention issues.

Reviewed by

Portrait of Mark Griffin

Mark Griffin, Ph.D., was the founding headmaster of Eagle Hill School, a school for children with specific learning disabilities.

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