Parenting Tools | Tweens + Teens | Ages 11–14

Ask the Parent Coach: Helping Your Child Make a Smooth Transition to Middle School

Ask the Parent Coach: Jennifer Watanabe


Middle school girlQ: My 11-year-old daughter will be going to middle school this fall. I am a bit concerned about how the transition will go. What can I do to help her get ready for all of the upcoming changes?

A: Your concern is understandable. Even though there are many unknowns on the horizon, this is an exciting time for your daughter.

Before discussing how you can support your daughter’s life at the new school, I want to start by talking about who you will be sending off to school. Your daughter is now in early adolescence. According to the Center on Early Adolescence, “Adolescents’ brains are undergoing massive growth and reorganization in the pre-frontal cortex, and the growth is not finished until the early 20s.” As your daughter’s brain is maturing she will need your guidance to help her build her organization and decision-making skills.

Also, I encourage you to consider the impact of your child’s temperament on school adjustment. High-energy students may have a hard time not having recess; highly sensitive children may find that their heightened sense of awareness of others’ thoughts and feelings may affect concentration on school work, etc. Some children will adjust more easily to change and multiple teachers than others. Support your daughter’s discovery of who she is — what is easy for her and what is hard, then work with her to create strategies to help her manage the school changes.

Now, let us discuss how you can help your daughter get ready for middle school. I encourage you and your daughter to make a list of the areas of interest or concern. Explore these areas together by doing research either online or by consulting with experienced friends to see how they have managed these interests and concerns. Then, I suggest you plot out the steps that you both can take to address these issues.

This is a transition time for friendships. Your ongoing parental love and support will go a long way toward easing any social bumps along the way. In general, it is a good idea to have students participate in at least one physical activity and one volunteer or leadership activity. Committing to activities will be a great way for your daughter to develop friendships in different groups.  

What sort of activities does your daughter enjoy? Are there programs located in the school or in other local organizations that she might consider joining? Maybe she is continuing some, discontinuing others that were not a good fit and looking to try out something new. It would be great to do your research in advance so she will have some understanding of what is available that matches her interests.

Be aware there will be lots of orientation information coming your family’s way until school ends and then in September. Be prepared to be a sounding board as your daughter processes lots of new expectations.


Jennifer WatanabeJennifer Watanabe is the parent coach at Youth Eastside Services (YES). She teaches Positive Discipline classes and provides individual parent coaching. As a Certified Parent Coach, she has vast experience teaching parenting classes, using research-based information on child development, temperament, discipline, and emotion management. She specializes in helping parents who are longing for a better relationship with their children and who need a more effective way to discipline. Perhaps most importantly, Jennifer understands first-hand the issues parents face in our community.

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