Is your tween starting to get the Middle School Jitters? Here’s what you need to know BEFORE school starts to prevent a First-Day Panic.
From the backseat of the car, my soon-to-be middle schooler asks, “When do we get our school schedule?”
I look in the rearview mirror and see she’s biting her lip as she waits for me to respond.
“I’m not sure, Honey,” I reply brightly. “I know it’s in August. Ask me again when we get home and I’ll look it up for you.”
“OK,” she sighs.
I glance in the mirror again… This time she sees me and quickly smiles, trying to conceal her nervousness.
. . .
Here’s the thing… My daughter isn’t the only one anxious about making the leap this fall from a small elementary school a few blocks away to a large, three-grade middle school across town. Parent-to-parent, I have to confess: I’m a little freaked out, too.
This is hard stuff. Middle school is a gray zone for us parents. It’s easy to feel like our parenting skills aren’t developed enough to handle some of the more difficult challenges that lie ahead for our children.
So what did I do after seeing her cringing face?
I did what I always do when a new situation makes me (or my kids) uneasy:
I did research…
I read everything on the subject that I could get my hands on.
I interviewed families and friends who’ve been through it before.
And I asked questions—lots and lots of questions—online.
Below are the top seven parent-approved and kid-tested tips that I’ve compiled to help your tween daughter ROCK her first day of middle school, as well as some hints for parents of middle school newbies (to help calm your own butterflies this first year).
Please note that while I wrote this article aimed at girls since I’ve got a daughter starting middle school this fall, many of the tips apply to boys, too.
What Your Daughter Needs to Know BEFORE the First Day of Middle School
Let’s get started…
1. The layout of the new middle school.
Most middle schools offer a schedule pick-up time before the first day of school. Slot you and your tween some extra time to physically walk through her class schedule a few times until she feels comfortable navigating the new school building all on her own.
Consider pointing out helpful things like:
- How the first number of the classroom usually matches up with the floor level (For example: Room 345 is on the third floor)
- How to to use internal landmarks and/or alliteration to remember where things are (For example: Music is near the Main Office, or Science is on the Second floor)
- How to best manage the 3–5 minutes between classes (For example: Point out how when she has back-to-back classes with classrooms that are closer together, she’ll have a few extra minutes to use the restroom or to get a drink, if needed, then)
Even after giving her all these pointers, further comfort your tween by reminding her that during the first week of middle school, most teachers will be very forgiving about kids being a few minutes late to class. They know that new students are still getting used to navigating the building, so your daughter shouldn’t worry if she does end up being tardy for a class or two.
2. How to use a combination lock on their middle school locker.
This simple task can be tougher than it seems, especially on the first day of school, when there’s a time crunch and people are watching and a nervous tween-age brain feels overloaded.
If your daughter is required to bring her own lock to school, have her practice the combo until opening it and closing it feels like second nature.
If your combination locks are built into the lockers themselves, have her practice opening and closing her locker during schedule pick-up day until she feels totally comfortable doing it. Be patient and encouraging.
3. The middle school dress code.
Be sure to review your new school’s dress code before doing any back-to-school shopping.
You both might be surprised by a few of the regulations regarding tank-top shoulder strap widths, hats (no matter how cute), shirt lengths or printed content, acceptable accessories, and so on.
Make sure that a “must-have” outfit doesn’t violate any “what not to wear” school policies. And, speaking of picking out school clothes, have some fun choosing…
4. What to wear on the first day of middle school.
If your daughter is like mine, she’ll likely have her Day 1 outfit picked out at least a week in advance. Even so, recommend that she pick out a secondary outfit, too—just in case she isn’t “feeling it” on the first day. It’s always good to have a backup plan. (A great Life Lesson for middle schoolers to learn at this stage anyway.)
During this “transition period,” here are a few concepts I want to teach my daughter…
Your style is always evolving. Today you might feel like wearing a frilly, flower dress to school, but tomorrow you might want to wear a sporty jersey. We all change from day to day. So can your style. Embrace all the different versions of YOU.
Fashion is about fitting in; style is about being you. Don’t be afraid to create your own style.
Be comfortable. Be confident. Wear clothes that make you feel at ease in the moment. Find things to wear that make you feel good inside and out.
Let’s get back to the seven things your daughter needs to know BEFORE the first day of middle school…
5. That she’ll have to change her clothes for gym in middle school.
I vividly remember the anxiety gym caused for me as a middle schooler. Help reduce your daughter’s anxiety by picking up some cute undies during your back-to-school shopping trip. I’d also recommend getting a few bras, even if your daughter doesn’t need one quite yet. This way she can change in the locker room for gym class without feeling overly exposed.
I love that the store Justice specifically caters to this transitional stage for girls. Their different collections of bras are super-comfy and they offer a variety of styles. They’ve got classic bras, sports bras, pull-on styles, bralettes, and more. The staff is used to working with young women, and the diverse collection makes it a great place to get started.
6. That accidents will happen.
So be prepared. Have your daughter keep a spare set of clothing in her locker in case of an emergency.
There are a million and one reasons (besides the one you might be thinking of) that your tween might need an extra set of clothes: a chocolate milk spill while goofing around at lunch, sopping wet pants from splashing in puddles, and so on.
Be sure she packs a complete change of clothes—or at least a long-sleeved shirt or sweatshirt that she can keep in her locker to tie around her waist as “cover,” if needed.
7. How to use a daily planner.
Most elementary schools start teaching kids this skill during their last year. Start the year off on the right foot… Ensure your tween has a daily planner that’s conducive for keeping track of her homework assignments and test dates. The goal is to teach her to independently keep track of her own workload.
OPTIONAL: Grab-and-go organization. When picking out school supplies, remind your tween she’ll need to grab-and-go between classes. Consider color-coordinating notebooks and folders by subject for fast locker finds between classes.
I hope these tips help your tween daughter feel ready for her first day of middle school. If you’re not sure that’s enough to calm her nerves, read on to learn…
What Your Daughter Needs to Know the FIRST WEEK of Middle School
Ok, school has officially begun, here are seven things she needs to know now…
1. All the kids are as nervous as she is.
On the first day, remember ALL the first-year students are anxious. So tell her: “Be brave, and smile.” It’ll help her, and put others at ease, too.
3. Throw kindness around like confetti.
Yes, it’s A-OK to reconnect with your elementary school classmates on the first day of school. Still, make a habit of going out of your way to talk to new people, too. Be friendly, be kind, and take an interest in all the new (nervous) faces around you, too.
5. Put yourself out there.
Middle school offers a variety of great opportunities to connect with others and explore new talents and skills. Try out for a sports team. Join a club (art, debate, robotics, etc.). It’s an excellent way to quickly meet new people in a semi-structured environment.
6. Speak up in class.
This year, your tween will be working with a lot of teachers who don’t yet know that she’s an awesome student. Encourage your tween to not only ROCK her first homework assignments, but to continue to speak up in class, even if she’s feeling a bit hesitant or intimidated.
7. Ya got to be able to laugh at yourself.
Something is bound to happen. There’s no way to ensure a perfect first week of middle school. Remind your daughter that everyone is struggling to find their own way through the first week, and try to get her to laugh at whatever situation has her cringing. (I’m sure it’s not nearly as embarrassing as she thinks it was, anyway. It never is…)
What YOU (The Parent) Need to Know During Middle School
There are also a few things YOU need to know once your kiddo starts middle school…
1. This is how she’ll figure out her way in the world.
Your daughter has to create an identity apart from you in middle school, so she can learn how to build healthy relationships with others in the future. Knowing this might make it a little bit easier to bear the fact that your tween may be separating and relying more on her friends now than you.
“X” marks the spot, my friend. Middle school is the spot where our kids officially start their transition into adulthood. There’s no turning back, so you might as well embrace it.
2. Don’t force your tween to quote Rodney Dangerfield.
Middle schoolers often feel that their parents don’t take them seriously or give them the respect they’re craving… And sometimes we don’t.
Children at this age are starting to see themselves as young adults, and we parents often don’t respond accordingly. We still see them as eight- or nine-year-olds. Honestly—where does the time go?
But, our tweens are in a transition period where they’re practicing how to become adults. So, show your middle school daughter increasing respect as she works toward developing her independent decision-making skills, responsible work habits, and so on.
3. Find alternatives to asking, “How was school today?”
The default answer will most likely be one word. Instead, get a bit creative with your questions. For example:
- What was your favorite part of lunch?
- If an alien spaceship came to school today and beamed someone up, who would you want them to take?
- Tell me something that made you smile today.
BONUS TIP: Stay connected when your daughter starts middle school.
So many things are changing when our daughters reach middle school. We need to find ways to keep the lines of communication open. Our girls still need us—just in different ways.
I stumbled upon Just Between Us: Using a Mother-Daughter Journal To Talk With Your Tween earlier this year. In the intro of the book, the author Meredith Jacobs writes:
So much is happening to girls at this age. And, unfortunately it’s happening so much faster than it used to. Sometimes [my daughter] seems so mature and confident, I forget everything she’s navigating.
I’m reminded that she’s still young girl trying to understand her physical and emotional changes when I read an entry in which she asks about something I know she’d be too embarrassed to say—and absolutely mortified to have to listen to my answer.
Writing makes it easier to broach some topics—but I have found once we’ve “talked” on paper, continuing the conversation in person is comfortable.
I want you to LOVE your mother-daughter journal experience. So here are a few tips on how we got started using our journal together:
I cannot even begin to tell you how well this mother-daughter journal has worked so far to keep us connected and learning and laughing with each other.
What WE Need to Do Moving Forward
Studies show that parents’ confidence in their ability to be good parents declines precipitously in middle school [source]. Why? Our children aren’t the only ones making a transition during these tween years. We are too! Yet, the online world just sort of goes quiet for the moms of pre-teens, teenagers, and young adults. That’s why I’d like to share two of my favorite online parent resources with you.
These everyday moms have continued to share helpful advice on a weekly basis, even as their children have left elementary school:
- Picklebums by Kate Fairlie—Recent articles include things like Ten Things I Want Parents to Know About Social Media and Parenting Tweens – Learning from Mistakes. (See her full collection of parenting articles here.)
- The (Reformed) Idealist Mom by Kelly Holmes—Recent posts include things like The Life-Changing Phrase You Must Use When Parenting Tweens and 10 Miracle Phrases to Help You Reconnect With Your Child. (See her full collection of parenting posts here.)
If we want to help our kids ROCK middle school—then high school, and eventually life—we need to continue to come together as parents and help one another out. We need to share online resources, book titles, suggestions, and ideas, even as (or ESPECIALLY as) our kids get older and the daily conversations and challenges we all face grow ever more difficult.
This transition period may be a bit nerve-wracking at times, but it’s also an incredible opportunity to watch our kids SHINE.
I’d love to chat more in the comments and talk about additional ideas you may have for helping tweens start their first day of middle school “on the right foot.” What’s your best tip to share with all us middle school newbies?
P.S. A big virtual hug to friends and family who have shared their stories and tips with me over the last few months. Also, a special thank-you to my two goofball girls who entertain me each year while we take back-to-school photos.
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