Help your child transition from elementary to middle school

Help your child transition from elementary to middle school by understanding their stressors.

Girl with backpack on walking on sidewalk covered in leaves.

Michigan State University Extension recognizes that children go through many transitions, large and small. Things like moving from a crib to a big bed, from diapers to potty training and from preschool to elementary are some of the milestones of transition for young children. These transitions require parental knowledge of their child’s developmental stage so they can know how to best support them. As children grow and mature, their ability to handle transitions also increases, however, parental support is still crucial to help them transition.

One transitional time that is particularly challenging for children is the move from elementary to middle school. Much of the difficulty can be directly related to their developmental stage being early adolescence where they are going through major changes physically, cognitively, socially and psychologically.

Changes in early adolescence:

  • Physical: puberty, growth spurts and secondary sexual characteristics
  • Cognitive: process information faster, better memory, more able to estimate abilities but less able to know vulnerabilities and major brain development as unnecessary neurons are deleting at about 30,000 per second
  • Social: Able to see themselves as unique yet have a strong desire to fit in and there is an increase in the importance of peer relationships
  • Psychological: Beginning to see themselves as individuals and an increasing desire for autonomy

During all these developmental milestones, which can be embarrassing enough to deal with in familiar territory, the school environment presents its own set of challenges. Middle schools tend to be larger, with more students from a variety of elementary schools. They are going to be transitioning from one main teacher who teaches most or all subjects to several teachers who teach single subject classes.

Parents can help by understanding the vast amount of transitions and developmental changes that early adolescence are going through. The Search Institute has a six part series that helps families develop strong parent-youth relationships. This is a critical time to find out how to implement these strategies with your adolescent as you both adjust to the transition of elementary to middle school. The strategies they suggest are to express care, challenge growth, provide support, share power and expand possibilities. You can learn more by visiting their website.  

Even though children may sound mature and like they have it all together, they still need their parents’ love and guidance. Keep the lines of communication open, keep talking and keep listening. This is just the beginning of the launch into adulthood. Going through this journey together can be challenging, but also has many rewards as you see your child develop into their own person and future self.


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