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How to Support Your Child's Transition to Middle School

Congratulations! Your child is about to begin the exciting transition from elementary school to middle school. The chubby cheeks are gone, the Mickey Mouse backpack has been tucked away, and the curbside drop-offs are a little less, "bye, Mom!" and a whole lot more, "Mom, can you leave already?!"


While you might have all kinds of mixed emotions about the transition to middle school, the ultimate reality is that it can be incredibly difficult. For kids with ADHD, it can be even more challenging.


As a parent, there's no doubt that you probably want to set your child up for success in this very different academic and social environment. But where do you start? 


That's where we come in. In this guide, our goal is to give you practical tips, tricks, and resources to better support your child's transition to middle school. We'll explore how to fine-tune your child's executive functioning skills, like organization, time management, and prioritization, so that they can navigate this new school life like a pro.


Let's dive in! 


What Challenges Will Kids Face Moving Into Middle School?


Here's something you probably know all too well: moving into middle school can be a big challenge for kids, particularly those with ADHD. 


We'll talk about specific strategies you can implement to help with the transition later on in this post, but first, let's explore some of those potential difficulties a bit more in-depth so you know what you're up against:


Social Challenges


One of the biggest hurdles for kids with ADHD in middle school is navigating a completely new social arena. 


As their peers become more aware of themselves and others, you may find that your child's classmates become annoyed with your child and see them as less mature. This can lead to feelings of rejection and isolation, which can be tough to cope with.


According to Foothills Academy and the Calgary Foundation, kids with ADHD:


"...can become easily overwhelmed, impatient, or frustrated. In social interactions, when children with ADHD become distracted or dominate the conversation, their peers may view them as uninterested and unkind. These children will likely be avoided by peers."

Not only that, but you will likely find that your child becomes more self-aware, too. They may begin to more fully understand the implications of having ADHD and feel frustrated or embarrassed by it. 


Peer Pressure


Peer pressure is also common in middle school, and kids with ADHD may feel pressure to fit in with certain groups or engage in risky behaviors. 


In fact, according to the NIH, students with ADHD:


"demonstrate increased risk-taking behavior (RTB) like substance abuse and dangerous traffic conduct."

Because of this, it's important for parents and teachers to provide support and guidance to kids with ADHD during this time, and to help them build social skills and navigate social situations.


Academic Challenges

Academically, middle school can be a challenging time for all kids, but especially for those with ADHD. 


Students are expected to work on more complex concepts, and the workload increases significantly. Multiple teachers, each with their own set of rules and expectations, can be overwhelming for kids with ADHD.



"ADHD can affect a student's ability to focus, pay attention, listen, or put effort into schoolwork. ADHD also can make a student fidgety, restless, talk too much, or disrupt the class. Kids with ADHD might also have learning disabilities that cause them to have problems in school."

Organizational skills are equally crucial in middle school, and kids with ADHD may struggle with keeping track of assignments, due dates, and activities. 


The "backpack black hole" is a common phenomenon, too, where papers and assignments seem to disappear into a black void. 


Helping kids with ADHD develop systems for organization and time management is critical for their success in middle school, but it's something that often is missed.


Another significant challenge in middle school is getting to class on time. With multiple classes in different locations, kids with ADHD may have trouble transitioning between classes and keeping track of the time.

 

Medication Management


Finally, for some kids with ADHD, medication is an important part of their treatment plan. However, the timing and duration of medication may need to be adjusted in middle school to accommodate the longer school day and increased activities. 


The Role of Executive Functioning Skills in the Transition to Middle School


In order for students to navigate the challenges described above, they need to have solid executive functioning skills in place. But what are they?


Essentially, executive functioning skills refer to the cognitive processes that help individuals regulate, control, and manage their thoughts and actions independently. 


These skills enable students to manage their time effectively, plan and organize their work, initiate tasks, prioritize, set goals and monitor their progress. They also play a significant role in decision making, problem-solving, and self-reflection.


Not only that, but: 


"This school transition requires significant cognitive and behavioral adjustment as it often involves not only a physical change of location, but changes in school perspective and instructional formats, increases in the number of teachers, decreases in perceived teacher support, increases in class size, changes in peer networks, and increased expectations for individual responsibility, and often increased exposure to the potential for delinquent behavior."

All executive functioning skills are important during this time, but here are some of the most significant:


Time Management


With multiple subjects, assignments, and extracurricular activities, students must learn how to manage their time effectively. Without proper time management, they may feel overwhelmed, stressed, and anxious.


In middle school, your child will need to keep track of deadlines, set aside time for studying, and balance their personal and academic lives. Learning time management skills can lead to better academic performance, reduced stress levels, and increased productivity.


Organization


Middle school can be chaotic, which is why organization skills are equally critical. These skills refer to the ability to keep track of materials, assignments, and deadlines. Without proper organizational skills, students may find themselves missing assignments, losing papers, or struggling to keep up with their schoolwork.


Memory


Memory is another important executive functioning skill for middle school students. Students need to remember key concepts, formulas, and facts, as well as deadlines and schedules. Developing strong memory skills can help students improve their academic performance and retain information for future use.


Decision Making


In middle school, students are faced with many important decisions. They need to decide what classes to take, what extracurricular activities to participate in, and how to balance their academic and personal lives. Good decision-making skills are essential for students to make informed and wise choices.


Prioritization


When faced with multiple tasks, it can be challenging to know where to start. Prioritization skills are essential for middle school students to learn because they enable students to identify the most important tasks and complete them first.


Strategies to Help Your Child Transition to Middle School


So your little one is all grown up and moving on to middle school! Congrats! But now, especially after reading some of the potential challenges listed above, you might be worried about how they will transition into this new environment. 


Don't fret! Take a deep breath. We've got you covered with some strategies that will help ease the transition for both you and your child - and help you strengthen the executive functioning skills we described above. 


1. Meet With the Teachers and Guidance Counselors


Before the school year starts, try to schedule a meeting with your child's teachers and guidance counselors. This will give you a chance to get to know the people who will be responsible for your child's education and well-being during this transitional period. It also gives you an opportunity to ask any questions or address any concerns you might have.


Ask about the curriculum, classroom policies, and what support systems are in place for the students. Talk to the guidance counselors about any academic or behavioral concerns you might have, and work together to devise a plan that will help your child adjust and succeed. 


Ultimately, knowing that there is a support system in place will also alleviate any nervousness or anxiety your child may have about the new environment. 


2. Be Positive About Strengths and Realistic About Weaknesses


It's important to be realistic about your child's strengths and weaknesses when transitioning to middle school. While you certainly don't want to discourage or be overly critical of your child, you also shouldn't sugarcoat your child's weaknesses with a lack of realism.


Instead, recognize that this is a new stage in their academic journey, and there may be some challenges that arise. Again, though, it's also important to focus on the positives and reinforce your child's strengths and what they are good at.


Help your child set realistic goals and expectations for themselves, but don't put too much pressure on them. Remember that it's the process that counts more than the outcome here:


"The specific goal is less important than the act of setting it. Help kids make early goals small and realistic, so they can experience success."

Stressing the importance of grades, for example, can sometimes lead to more anxiety and a fear of failure. 


Instead, emphasize the importance of effort and hard work, and praise your child when they do well. Encourage them to try new things and get involved in extracurricular activities that interest them. This will help them build confidence and find their place in their new school.


3. Keep a Visual Calendar or Chart with Assignments and Due Dates


One way you can help your child stay organized is to keep a visual calendar or chart with all of their assignments and due dates. 


This could be as simple as a whiteboard on their wall or a notebook they can carry with them, but having a visual reminder of what needs to be done can help them stay on track and minimize stress. 


4. Encourage Your Child to Do the Easiest Tasks First


An academic strategy that all kinds of experts swear by is to encourage your child to start with the easiest tasks first. Here's what that would look like.


When your child is working on their homework, have them tackle the thing that's easiest as soon as they sit down. If they excel in English, do the spelling work first. If they're better at math, get those worksheets out of the way.


Essentially, it's just chunking - splitting large amounts of information into smaller, manageable sections. While this principle is usually applied to study techniques, it can also work when batching homework and figuring out what to work on first. 


In fact:

"Chunking long assignments and projects provides scaffolding so that students are not overwhelmed by the entire task. Chunking can help students learn executive functioning skills such as planning, organization, and time management."

5. Have Your Child Work Ahead on Longer-Term Assignments


Encourage your child to start working on projects and assignments well before they are due. Not only does this give them a head start, but it also allows them to break tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks. This can reduce feelings of overwhelm and anxiety, and help your child feel more in control of their workload.


But how do you motivate your child to work ahead? One tactic is to involve them in the planning process. Sit down with your child and read through syllabi and assignment schedules together. Encourage them to set goals and create deadlines for themselves. This way, they feel more invested in the process and are more likely to follow through.


6. Offer Plenty of Praise


We all know that the transition into middle school can be a daunting one. The sudden change in environment, the pressure to fit in, and the academic demands can be overwhelming. 


But as parents, it's our responsibility to make the transition as smooth and stress-free as possible. 


Studies have shown that offering praise to children can increase their self-esteem, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve their overall well-being. 


In fact, children who receive praise from their parents - particularly effort-based praise - are more likely to have a positive attitude towards school and perform better academically.

Remember, offering praise should not be limited to academic achievements. Children should be praised for their efforts, progress, and positive behavior. 


For example, if your child is struggling with a particular subject, praise them for their perseverance and hard work. If they show kindness or compassion towards others, praise them for their empathy and generosity.


Praise should also be specific and meaningful. Instead of simply saying "good job," try to use more descriptive language that highlights what your child did well.

For instance, "I'm really proud of how you tackled that difficult math problem," or "You showed great sportsmanship during the soccer game today."


It's also important to be consistent with your praise. Make it a habit to recognize your child's achievements and efforts on a regular basis. By doing so, you can help create a positive and supportive environment that promotes confidence and growth.


7. Don't Nag

If there's one thing that we all tend to do really well as parents, it's nagging! Unfortunately, this has shown to be counterproductive in many cases. 


Instead of nagging your child about their grades, homework, or attendance, try approaching the situation in a more productive way. Instead of asking them, "Did you do your homework yet?" or "Why did you get a C on your math test?" try saying something like, "How can I help you with your homework?" or "What can we do together to improve your grades?"


Research has shown that children who feel their parents are supportive and involved in their education tend to do better in school overall - this is regardless of ethnic background, socioeconomic status, or other variables. 

And when parents take a more positive and proactive role in their child's education, it can improve the parent-child relationship as well as the child's overall sense of well-being.


Obviously, this approach isn't going to solve all of your problems overnight. You still need to make sure your child is doing their homework, going to school, and generally taking responsibility for their education. 


But by reframing your interactions with your child in a more positive and supportive way, you may find that they are more likely to comply with your requests and take ownership of their education.


8. Help Your Child Find a Study Buddy 


Research has found that students who study together are more likely to retain information and achieve better grades.


The benefits don't stop there. When your child has a study buddy, they also have someone to share notes with, discuss topics with, and ask questions to. This not only helps with learning but also fosters socialization and communication skills. 


So, not only will your child improve academically, but they'll develop valuable life skills as well. In fact:


Research has shown that peer tutoring is one of the most effective strategies for students with ADHD. 

How do you create the perfect pair? Your child can always work with their friends or classmates, but if they're having trouble making that connection, you can try connecting with other parents in the school. Attend a school event, join a parent-teacher organization, or connect with your child’s teacher to see if they know of any families whose children might be compatible with your child.


Your child's school may also have a tutoring program where students are matched with peers who excel in certain subjects. This is a great opportunity to not only find a study buddy but also receive extra help in a specific subject.


9. Build a Social "Team"


As we all know, having a strong support system is crucial for any new undertaking. This holds especially true for kids transitioning to middle school as they embark on a new phase of their academic journey. Building a social "team" can provide a stable and supportive environment for your child during this period.


Not only that, but according to the CDC:


"Children with ADHD are more likely than their peers to have some difficulties with social relationships. If the school environment provides fewer opportunities to interact freely during the day, children may need other ways to practice social skills and build on relationships."

So, what exactly is a social "team" and how can you build one for your child? Essentially, it's just a group of friends and supportive adults who can provide emotional, social, and academic support for your child during their middle school years. Here are some tips on how to build a social "team" for your child:


  • Encourage Extracurricular Activities: Participating in extracurricular activities such as sports, choir, or drama can provide an excellent opportunity for your child to meet new friends with similar interests. 

  • Foster Positive Relationships with Teachers: Fostering positive relationships with your child's teachers can help provide additional support and create a more comfortable environment for your child. This can be achieved by keeping in close communication with your child's teachers and attending school events such as parent-teacher conferences.

  • Make Use of School Resources: Middle schools often have resources available to help children adjust to the new changes, such as counseling services, peer support programs, and mentoring programs. Utilizing these resources to build a social "team" for your child can provide them with additional support during the transition.

  • Foster Friendships: Encouraging your child to make new friends can help them build a supportive social "team". You can do this by setting up playdates and encouraging your child to invite their new friends over for study sessions or extracurricular activities.


Ultimately:


Research shows that having a strong social support system is linked to lower levels of depression, anxiety, and stress, and better academic performance. 

Building a social "team" for your child can provide the emotional and social stability to navigate the transition to middle school successfully - so put this one at the top of your priority list.


10. Set Up Simple Organization Systems

Having an organized workspace can improve a child's academic performance: 


One study found that students who participated in an organization skills training program had higher GPAs and improved executive functioning skills, such as planning, prioritization, and time management. 

By taking the time to set up organization systems with your child, you're not only helping them transition to middle school – you're also setting them up for long-term success.


One easy way to help your child stay on top of their schoolwork is to use folders. Invest in a few sturdy folders and label them clearly: one for incoming papers, and one for those that need to be returned. 


As soon as your child walks in the door at home, make it a habit for them to go through their incoming papers folder, sorting out any homework assignments, permission slips, or notes from the teacher. This not only keeps everything in one place, but also helps prevent any important papers from getting lost in the piles of backpack clutter.


Another way to use folders is to create one for each class. Encourage your child to organize their notes, handouts, and completed assignments in their respective folders. This system can be especially helpful when it comes time to study for tests, as everything they need will be in one convenient location.


Of course, setting up organization systems isn't a one-size-fits-all fix. What works for one child may not work for another. Don't be afraid to experiment with different methods until you find the one that's right for your child.

For example, some kids may prefer to use binders instead of folders, while others may prefer color-coded tabs or sticky notes. Play around with different ideas until you find the system that's most intuitive and easy to stick with.


11. Use a Planner


Middle school is a time when students are expected to juggle multiple classes, homework, extracurricular activities, and social commitments. Balancing all of this can be tough, but a planner can help. Encourage your child to use a planner to create a schedule. This will help them manage their time effectively, prioritize tasks, and meet deadlines.


Having a planning mindset and using a planner, in particular, can reduce stress and create an overall sense of control for students, leading to better academic outcomes.


Also, remember that middle school is the time for students to start learning to take responsibility for their learning. When they use a planner, they become more self-reliant, independent, and accountable for their time. They can manage their time better and make decisions accordingly. 


12. Get to Know Your Child's Friends and Find Them Some Mentors


Research has shown that having a solid social support system is essential for middle schoolers. According to research:


middle school students with positive friendships and mentors are less likely to experience depression, anxiety, or social withdrawal.

So, how do you go about creating a social support system for your child? First, get to know your child's friends. Take time to talk to them, find out what their interests are, and what they like to do outside of school. When you know your child's friends, you're better able to support their social lives and introduce them to new opportunities for socializing.


Secondly, help your child find some mentors. Mentors can be their teachers, coaches, or other adults who have a positive influence on their lives. 


Talk to your child's teachers and coaches and find out if they know of any adult mentors who could help guide your child through the transition to middle school. Not only can mentors provide valuable guidance, but they can also help your child feel more confident and supported.


Finally, encourage your child to socialize outside of screen time. While technology has its benefits, it's essential for kids to develop real-life relationships and social skills. 


Encourage your child to participate in extracurricular activities, join clubs, and attend social events with their friends. This will help them feel more connected and supported as they navigate the transition to middle school.


13. Practice Everything


You might think getting from Point A to Point B in a school building is no big deal. After all, you did it every day when you were a student.


But the reality is that new routines, new people, new timetables, and new expectations can be incredibly stressful, especially for the ADHD brain. Therefore, you need to take the time to rehearse all the routines and skills that will be required of your child in middle school. 


This includes simple tasks like getting to class on time and working the combination lock. While these may seem like basic skills, they are essential to helping your child feel confident and prepared for their middle school journey.


14. Get the Right Accommodations in Place 


First of all, what do we mean by "accommodations"? Accommodations are changes or adjustments made to school routines, assignments, or environments that help students with disabilities or challenges be able to succeed in school. These can include things like extra time on tests, note-taking assistance, or even just a quiet space to work.


Now, you might be thinking, "But my child doesn't have an IEP or even a formal diagnosis of ADHD - do they still need accommodations?" Absolutely! Even if your child doesn't have a diagnosed disability, they might still benefit from some accommodations. 


For example, if your child is easily distracted, they might benefit from a designated study area that's away from noise and other distractions. Or if your child is anxious, they might benefit from a teacher who's willing to check in with them periodically throughout the day.


So, how do you go about getting accommodations in place for your child? The first step is to talk to your child's school. You can request a meeting with the school's special education team or guidance counselor to discuss what accommodations might be helpful for your child. Make sure to bring any documentation you have, such as medical records or outside assessments, that can help support your request.


Once you've identified what accommodations your child might need, it's important to make sure they're actually being implemented. Follow up with the school regularly to check in and make sure things are going smoothly. If you notice that something isn't working or your child needs additional support, don't be afraid to speak up and ask for changes.


So, why is getting the right accommodations so important for helping your child transition to middle school? 


Studies have shown that kids who receive accommodations they need are more likely to have higher academic achievement, better attendance, and improved behavior in school. 

By getting the right support in place, you can help your child feel more confident and successful in their new environment.


15. Ask Open Ended Questions


Instead of bombarding your child with closed-ended questions that only require a simple "yes" or "no" answer, ask questions that encourage your child to voice their feelings and thoughts. In doing so, you're giving your child an opportunity to express their fears and concerns, and in turn, you're able to provide your child with the necessary support and guidance. 


By giving your child choices instead of mandates, you're showing them that you trust their judgment. Moreover, you're teaching them valuable decision-making skills that they'll carry with them for the rest of their lives. 


16. Be a "Consultant, Not a Boss"


As much as you want to be in control of every aspect of your child's life, it's essential to allow your child to make their own decisions to a certain extent. Resist the urge to call the school and "fix" every challenge that comes your child's way. 


Mitch Prinstein of the American Psychological Association advises: 


"It's a shift from being the boss to slowly thinking of yourself as a consultant to your child…you might tell them how you handled something when you were their age, and invite them to figure it out with you."

This doesn't mean that you should abandon them entirely. Instead, give them plenty of advice on how to handle different situations. 


For example, if your child is having difficulty making friends, you can offer suggestions on how to interact with their peers. By doing so, you're equipping your child with the necessary tools to handle different situations independently. 


17. Treat Your Child With Respect - and Don't Forget the Humor


As adults, we tend to dismiss the power of humor in dealing with stressful situations. But for kids, laughter can be a powerful tool to alleviate anxiety and bring some levity to the situation. 



"Spontaneous play and unexpected, shared laughter are great ice breakers when times are tense."

So, crack a joke, share a funny anecdote or watch a comedy with your child. It may seem small, but these moments of lightheartedness can be a game-changer in how your child approaches their transition to middle school.


18. Highlight the Positive - and the Fun


Another important strategy is to highlight the positive aspects of middle school. It's easy for kids to focus on the negatives, like the added workload, new social dynamics and unfamiliar teachers. But it's equally important to remind them of the fun stuff too, like the abundance of extracurricular activities at their disposal.


Of course, it's not all sunshine and rainbows. The middle school transition can still be challenging, and it's important to acknowledge your child's concerns and feelings about the process. But with a focus on respect, humor and positivity, you can help alleviate anxiety and make this a positive experience for your child.


Don't Be Afraid to Reach Out for Help


So there you have it - some simple steps to support your child's transition to middle school. Remember, it's completely normal to feel a little anxious during this time (and we're directing that both to you AND your child!)


But with some extra support, you and your child can make the most of this exciting new chapter! 


If you're a parent who's feeling overwhelmed by your child's transition to middle school, don't hesitate to reach out for help. Here at EF Specialists, we work with parents just like you and your child to make sure everyone is well-supported on this journey.


Embrace high school - and hire an EF coach to make the process even easier. 


Or if you are the DIY type, consider enrolling in the Semester Success Blueprint course. The 'Semester Success Blueprint' isn't just a course; it's a concise, actionable tool designed from years of expertise in executive function coaching and special education.


Click on the link below to start your journey towards more efficient learning and better educational outcomes today.



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About the author

Sean G. McCormick is a former public school special education teacher who founded Executive Function Specialists to ensure all students with ADHD and Autism have access to high-quality online executive function coaching services. 


With this mission in mind, he then founded the Executive Function Coaching Academy which trains schools, educators, and individuals to learn the key approaches to improve executive function skills for students.


He is also the co-founder of UpSkill Specialists, a business with a mission to provide adults with ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder, access to high-quality executive function coaching services that can be accessed through Self-Determination funding.




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EFS started with one teacher deciding that kids with ADHD needed better access to quality executive function coaching services. Since then, we have grown to a team of specialists working both private students and public schools to enhance executive function skills for all students. 

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