Middle school: bring up the subject among a group of parents and you’ll likely be met with more than a few negative comments.

“Middle school was the worst for my kids!” “My kids hated middle school.” “I’m just glad my kids got through those years in one piece.”

I’d be lying if I didn’t agree… at least somewhat.

Looking back, what made middle school more manageable for my kids than perhaps (at leastsome) other kids is that I talked to them a lot – about what to expect, how to handle peer pressure, how to steer clear of drama, and how to use the time effectively to prepare for high school when the bar is really raised. My kids didn’t go through middle school alone. They had me right beside them coaching and guiding them when they needed help navigating the sometimes tumultuous waters.

I can’t guarantee that your child will sail through middle school, (I’m not sure anyone does), but I hope the lessons I learned in the trenches with my own kids will make their transition into middle school a little less turbulent and a lot moreenjoyable. Here are 10 tips to make your child’s transition into middle school easier.

#1 Steer Clear of Drama 

If there’s ever a time in your child’s life when drama will hit an all-time high, it’s middle school. From gossiping and bullying to arguments and downright meanness, middle school is drama central.

Help your child steer clear of the exhausting and draining effects of drama by encouraging them to choose their friends wisely, saying “no” to gossip, keeping it all in perspective (drama calms down in high school) and shrugging off the occasional nasty hits that might come their way. It’s also important to help your child learn to stand up for themselves if/when they are faced with a few verbal hits (role-playing works wonderfully) and to know when to reach out for help if the drama turns into bullying.

#2 Try Not to Stress About Cliques 

In elementary school, everyone gets along (or, at the very least, they tolerate each other better). In middle school, everyone is vying for position in the hierarchy of popularity while desperately trying to find their niche (or clique) and fit in. No one wants to be down at the bottom of the popularity totem pole, everyone wishes they could be at the top, but the truth is, most kids end up somewhere in the middle.

Try not to focus too intently on being in a clique since they have a tendency to be fluid in middle school. Cliques can dissolve just as quickly as they’re formed. Instead, focus on finding a few friends you can relate to, rely on and have fun with.

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#3 Not Everyone is Going to Like You – That’s OKAY

You won’t always be invited. You won’t always be included. You won’t always fit in. You won’t always be accepted or liked. This was one of the more challenging lessons my kids had to learn throughout their middle school years.

When you’re a middle schooler desperately trying to fit in, it hits hard when you’re not invited to a big party or included at the lunch table. But the sooner your child accepts the fact that they won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, the better off they’ll be. Rather than focusing on “fitting in,” encourage them to focus on being the best they can be, being a good friend and surrounding themselves with friends (even if it’s just one or two) who love and appreciate them for who they are.

#4 Don’t Cave into Negative Peer Pressure

Middle school is often the first time when our kids are exposed to negative peer pressure. They may be tempted (or feel pressured) to try smoking, drinking, drugs, or other risky behavior.

The key to helping your child avoid peer pressure is communication. Talk to them about what to expect and how to handle it when it arises – a lot of kids cave in to negative peer pressure because they don’t know how to say “no” without appearing uncool. Above all, make sure your child knows that your door is always open, that they can come to you with anything and no subject is off-limits. Be your child’s safe zone.

#5 Cast a Wide Social Net

I always encouraged my kids to cast a wide social net and establish different friend groups. In other words, don’t put all your eggs into one social basket. Whether it’s a sport, a club, an art class or drama, get involved in an activity (or activities) that interest you outside of your normal day-to-day school schedule. It’s a great way to meet new friends who have similar interests and get out of your comfort zone.  

Plus, not only does getting involved in various extracurriculars help you figure out who you are, what you like and what motivates you, it’s important to have different friends in various groups in the event your relationship with friends in one group gets rocky – which has a tendency to happen in middle school.

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#6 Middle School is the Precursor to High School – Use the Time Wisely

For the most part, your child’s grades in middle school won’t have long-term impact as it relates to high school and college (although your child’s grades in 8th grade may impact class placement in high school and in certain classes, like math, lessons build upon each other, so it’s important to grasp material so they don’t fall behind in the future). However, the habits they develop in middle school will follow them into high school where the academic bar is raised considerably. 

Everything from learning how to stay focused, getting and staying organized, avoiding distractions and studying effectively to learning how to juggle their classes with extracurriculars and getting homework assignments completed and in on time are all important learning curves your child should focus on. If they don’t begin to master these skills in middle school, high school will only be that much more challenging.

#7 Get to Know Your Teachers

One of the biggest challenges middle-schoolers face is adjusting to the new learning environment. Not only is the school itself bigger, but they will also have multiple teachers – all with different teaching styles, expectations and rules.

One of the things I always encouraged my kids to do is to get to know their teachers. Stay a few minutes after class to ask questions, go to their early-morning review sessions and find out a fewfacts about their personal life. The more you get to know your teachers (and the more they get to know you), the more comfortable you’ll feel asking for help if/when the curriculum becomes challenging and the more of an advocate they’ll become even in other aspects of your life.

#8 It’s Too Early to Begin Worrying About College

When my kids were in middle school, I was shocked by how much (and how often) teachers and administrators pounded the word “college” into their heads. “You’ll need to learn this for college.” “You think this is hard, wait until you’re in college.” “You need to begin thinking nowabout what you want to major in when you go to college.” All I can say is NO.

The stakes will be raised in high school, where literally every grade counts. In middle school, our kids need to focus on getting through puberty (which is challenging enough), learning how to navigate complex relationships, figuring out who they are, finding their voice and establishing solid academic habits – not piling on the additional stress of worrying about college.

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#9 Try Not to Take Yourself or Life Too Seriously

When I talk to my kids about their middle school experience, they have very little to say. In fact, they’ve admitted they don’t remember much about it, (other than the fact that they were glad when it was over). Middle school is over in a blink.

Don’t get too caught up in it. Don’t take it too seriously. More importantly, don’t take yourself too seriously. Before you know it, you’ll be on your way to high school, which is an entirely new and exciting experience (with a lot less drama).

#10 Be Prepared for a Few Bumps and Bruises Along the Way

I’m not sure anyone makes it out of middle school without a few bumps and bruises. It’s just part and parcel of the whole middle school experience. But, don’t fret.

Those occasional hits, bumps, and bruises your child may endure will help them build a certain mental toughness that’s necessary to build resilience and inner strength. They may stumble and falter in the beginning, but in the end, they’ll learn a few things about themselves, what they’re capable of handling and how to stand on their own two feet. One day, middle school will end, high school will begin and all those things your child thought were important, won’t be important anymore.

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