Transitioning from one level of school to the next can provoke mixed feelings in children. They’re excited about graduating to the next stage, yet the accomplishment brings with it uncertainty and fear of the unknown. Mix in a little parental pride and anxiety, and you have the perfect recipe for transitional stress.

Here are some tips to help smooth your child’s transition to the next level of school.

Starting Kindergarten

This is usually the first big transition for most children. Preparing your future kindergartner involves calming fears and providing your child with skills to successfully navigate her days as the new kid at school.

  • Speak positively. Save your own worries for times when little ears aren’t present.
  • Take a tour. Touring the school will help your child feel more comfortable on the first day. Be sure to show your child where the bathrooms, lunch room, library, water fountains, office and playground are and remind her that her teacher will be there to help.
  • Meet the teacher. Many schools set up a meet-and-greet for incoming students. Take advantage of this, as it helps your child picture her surroundings and new teacher.
  • Identify friends. Discover which friends will also start kindergarten at the same school, and set up a few playdates over the summer so your child feels less alone in transitioning.
  • Prepare for success. New kindergartners should be able to use the bathroom independently, re-button/snap their clothing and wash their hands well. They should know how to open snack bags and lunch boxes. It’s also helpful if they can write their names.
  • Visit the library. Check out some books about starting kindergarten, and read them to your child to ease nerves.
  • Special tip: Keep afterschool activities to a minimum for a while. Starting kindergarten is mentally and physically exhausting, and your child will need a lengthy adjustment period before she has the stamina for extra commitments.

Starting Middle School

The leap to middle school is a big one. Students face a new, larger school coupled with more independence and responsibility. Stir in the beginnings of puberty, and these things can overwhelm even the most confident pre-teen.

  • Learn the building. Take advantage of any opportunities to be on campus before school starts. Obtain a map of the school and go exploring with your child. Make special note of the library, bathrooms, gym and lunch room.
  • Find a club. Visit the school website to determine what interest groups are available. Having a club to join can help your child make friends more quickly.
  • Sign up for summer activities. Some schools offer summer preview camps, others host non-academic camps such as art or soccer. Being on campus before the school year starts allows your child to adjust gradually.
  • Practice. Buy a combination lock and have your child practice unlocking it over the summer.
  • Work on timing issues. Find out the length of the passing periods. Once you have your child’s class schedule, walk the building and demonstrate what that passing period allows. Bonus points if you bring a friend – your child and his friend will see where their schedules overlap and can make plans to meet up.
  • Brush up those social skills. If your child is open to it, practice some potential conversations, such as arranging to meet at lunch or proposing to sit together in class.
  • Prepare for homework. Help your child set up a study place and make a study schedule. If appropriate, help your child find a planner that will help him stay organized.
  • Listen to the experts. Your child’s teacher will make appropriate class level recommendations. Follow the advice to avoid setting your child up for unnecessary stress and struggle.

Starting High School

Rising high schoolers are old hats at transitioning, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still need support to start the year off right.

  • Get on schedule. Help your child obtain her class schedule. Encourage her to walk it through with friends before the first day.
  • Join a club. If your child isn’t already involved in clubs or interest groups, encourage her to find one. Having a group of potential friends that share a common interest will give her a social advantage.
  • Sharpen study skills. By high school, students are expected to be skilled at organization and studying. Review your child’s current study system and discuss what did and didn’t work. Help brainstorm changes to set her up for success.
  • Be present. High schoolers often want to talk about their worries at inopportune times. Be ready to listen and let them talk as much as they need. Your job is to be a safe place to air their thoughts without necessarily providing advice.


Alison Bogle is an Austin-based freelance writer and mom of three.

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