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None of us likes enforced transitions, which is especially true of many kids who feel like they’re comfortable with elementary school’s setup of a single teacher, room, and a static group classmates in elementary school. Suddenly they’re contemplating forgetting their locker combinations, being on time to individual classes, and of course the new culture of middle school.

How can you help your children with this unsettled time? One of the best things you can do is assure them that everyone else who is starting middle school is a little scared and doesn’t know what to expect.  Encourage your kids to ask questions when they don’t know what to do and to be kind to other kids who are struggling as they start middle school.  

For some kids, beginning middle school is a welcome do-over and fresh start. But for one type of kid, those called “socially anxious,” it can be especially challenging. Florida State University developmental psychologist Heidi Gazelle says one way to identify socially anxious kids as those who on the playground typically watch others instead of being involved in play activities.  In the past, they may have been labeled “shy.”

In a recent online interview, Dr. Gazelle offered a practical strategies for parents of such kids. She advises helping your child become as familiar as possible with the new middle school ahead of time. One way to do that is through seeking out connections with new classmates, possibly through summer camps for incoming sixth graders. I think another way might be through summer sports or other activity programs for middle school kids in your area.

Gazelle says the fresh start can be good even for the socially anxious, especially if they find ways to be included in groups and learn to defend themselves. 

One way a Christian can do that is to be the one who includes others, and the one who defends others. It’s a good conversation starter to brainstorm with your kids about how they can seek out the excluded or stand up for kids who are being bullied.