Surviving Sixth Grade: Talking to Your Anxiety-filled Child About Middle School Jitters

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor nor do I claim to be one. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, are injured, or are feeling thoughts of depression, anxiety, or anything else, please contact a medical professional IMMEDIATELY!

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

Bullies, Getting from Class to Class and Showering in Front of Their Peers

We’ve all been there, and survived it: bullies, getting from class to class on time for the first time, showering in front of the other classmates. There are a lot of scary firsts in the sixth grade!

In my 18 months covering the education beat for a community newspaper, I came across a lot of fifth graders who were nervous about the upcoming move to middle school. For every anxious fifth grader, there was a parent or two who didn’t quite know how to ease their child’s fears.

Don’t despair – talking about these anxieties with your child will go a long way in easing the stress they feel. To that end, you can get them excited about the new middle school experience. After all, they’re growing up and should be excited about the new freedoms and responsibilities they’ll be undertaking!

There are quite a few things children have every right to be nervous about. Television shows like “Malcolm in the Middle” and “Freaks and Geeks” certainly aren’t helping matters, making middle school and high school out to be a veritable battleground. Let your kids know that what’s on T.V. isn’t so close to the reality of the middle school experience.

Below is a breakdown of some of the sources of anxiety preteens experience between elementary school and middle school, and ways you can address these fears. Luckily, most of the tips to alleviate the anxiety your child is likely feeling involves building upon skills and habits they’ve already been using in elementary school!

  1. Bullies. In elementary school, your child and their friends ruled the school. But in middle school, they’ll be the smaller fish in a bigger pond! Anxiety about bullies, teasing and hazing abounds! Not to worry though – eighth graders are usually so wrapped up in their own drama they don’t pay much attention to their younger counterparts. Remind your child that he and his fifth-grade friends hardly noticed the first-graders at their old school. If your child is being bullied, let them know that there’s nothing wrong with telling a school official.
  2. Getting to class on time. Incoming middle schoolers might not have a good grasp of how long three minutes actually is. They might be nervous that middle school and high school are just a big rush from one class to the next in a frenzy! Not so. Walk your child through the school, schedule in hand, from the first class to the second, and then from the second to the third, and so on. Make sure they have a copy of the school’s layout with them on their first day. There will be plenty of things to focus on and be nervous about during the first day of middle school, without them worrying about how to get from one class to the next.
  3. Finding their locker – and then getting it open! During your trip around the middle school campus, point out your child’s locker, if it has been assigned already. Again, thanks to T.V. shows and movies, lockers and their combination locks seem like an instrument designed to cause anxiety in even the smartest kid. But come on, it’s a combination lock; there’s no secret to it. Chances are, your child has already owned a bicycle and has had a lock that goes to that. If you can, purchase a combination lock for your child to practice with: teach them to listen for the faint ‘click’ and make sure they have a good grasp of clockwise versus counterclockwise! You don’t want your child to be so intimidated by and nervous about their combination lock that they don’t use their locker – six books can get pretty heavy!
  4. Homework overload. Your child might be nervous that six times the classrooms will equal six times the amount of homework! Not so. Not every middle school teacher will assign homework every day. Middle school teachers know how it feels to be a sixth grader – they know each student juggles five other classes. That said, they will certainly be assigned more homework in middle school than they were in elementary school. But, hey, with freedom comes responsibility. It’s important that your incoming middle schooler develops steady homework habits so they don’t get behind! When they get home from school, make sure their homework for each class is organized in a way that makes sense to them and establish a homework hour before or after dinner and stick to it.
  5. Showering/Changing in front of peers. Oh, that dreaded physical education! Boys will have an easier time at this; your son has probably spent a good deal of his summer in nothing but swim trunks. But your daughter might be very nervous about the prospect of changing in front of anyone. Buy some stylish undergarments your child feels confident in. If they’re very anxious about changing in front of others, remind them that they can always change in the privacy of a bathroom stall. Check your district’s rules regarding showering after physical education. Showering may not be required; although a good sponge bath in the underarm area never hurt anyone.
  6. Making new friends. Compared to the rest of this list, this one should be a snap! This is the first year for most students to say goodbye to schoolmates they’ve gone to school with for six years! So making new friends in middle school may seem like an anxiety-filled, daunting task. Reassure your child that they’re very likable (well they are, aren’t they?) and that making friends is easy. Advise them to make it a point to say hello to at least one person in each class – they have more than 100 kids to choose from, after all! Remind them that everyone is in the same boat. It’s everyone else’s first day of middle school, too, and everyone is filled with anxiety as they try to figure out their combination locks, organize their homework assignments, discreetly change their clothes during P.E., find their classes and steer clear of bullies. Conversation topics shouldn’t be hard to come by!

Overall, middle school should be anticipated with excitement, not anxiety. Chalk it up to new experiences! Talking to your child about how they’re feeling as they enter this new chapter of their life will go a long way to alleviate the first day jitters.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor nor do I claim to be one. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, are injured, or are feeling thoughts of depression, anxiety, or anything else, please contact a medical professional IMMEDIATELY!

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

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