Transitions are hard for everyone.
Now, imagine if you were starting a new job in a larger office where, instead of having one supportive manager, you have several bosses and a whole new group of coworkers, as well as mood swings and acne.
That description is similar to what your child may experience when they transition from elementary to middle school. Although you can’t keep them home and shield them from it, you can help make things less challenging. All it takes is a little communication, preparation and organization, and summer is a great time to start.
Middle school is different
Your child’s daily school routine is about to change drastically. Most children go from having one teacher and staying in the same classroom all day to having several teachers in different classrooms.
Dr. Nicole Mavrides, child and adolescent psychiatry expert at the University of Miami Health System, explains that fear of getting lost is a common source of anxiety for kids. “Luckily, most schools these days offer things like orientation to help with the transition,” she says. “Encourage your child to write down questions to ask teachers during the event and take the opportunity to let your child walk around; help them find the cafeteria and gym.”
Many schools are open in the summer, so you may be able to go a few times. If your child is worried about using a locker, buy a lock and let them practice opening it at home.
Make it fun
Getting the school supply list and taking your child shopping can be fun. Have a special day where you take them to get everything they need and maybe some new clothes, too. “This is a perfect opportunity to give your child your undivided attention as well,” says Dr. Mavrides. “Take them to lunch and use that time to answer any questions they may have.” Let them pick stuff out so they really feel like they are being grown up.
She also suggests using this time to help your child organize, especially if they have any special considerations like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or a learning disability. “Having to keep track of several different subjects can be overwhelming but simple things like color-coding can help a great deal,” she adds.
Don’t wait till the week before school starts to start preparing for this transition. The more prepared your child feels – both physically and mentally – the better. If you talk to them about it now, then you may be able to lessen your child’s anxiety. Especially if your child is prone to “anticipation anxiety.” Dr. Mavrides says that a lot of kids – and adults – experience this about the first day of school or work, and if you dwell on it, it can be very distressful.
“Start the conversation early in the summer and be available if they need to talk,” she says. “Tell your child that everyone goes through it and that they shouldn’t worry; that by the second week they will have settled in and the feeling will go away.”
It’s also important to get your child back into the routine of going to school as well. Usually you can check online when the school day starts and what the daily schedule will be like.
“In the couple of weeks before school, set up a bed time and a morning schedule,” Dr. Mavrides says. “This will also help the kids know what to expect and to be ready for it.”
Natasha Bright is a contributing writer for the UMiami Health News blog. Her writing has also been featured on the Huffington Post and Scary Mommy websites.