Stepping Into Success: Transition Program For Middle And High School

This is your child’s big day. You sit with the other parents in the school gym, clapping as your child graduates from elementary school. You breathe a sigh of relief. But now middle school looms. Like many parents, you may feel anxious about the transition your child must now make into sixth grade. How will he or she cope? You’ve heard rumblings about the work load in middle school. How quickly kids can fall behind. How falling behind results in frustration, disappointment, and poor grades.

For parents with teenagers heading into high school, the stakes keep climbing. These kids are facing tougher assignments, bigger buildings, and more social demands. Their future successes rest on how wisely they choose priorities in high school, balancing academics, sports, extra-curricular activities, and the many demands and distractions of current teenage life. You’ve heard horror stories about kids who struggle with organization or who simply don’t have adequate study skills. High school is just plain tough, and getting tougher.

As a parent who truly cares, how can you help your child transition successfully?

Here’s where I can help. I specialize in transitions. As an educational program developer and an expressive arts coach, I routinely help students navigate these transitions. I’d like to share a few tips that have stood the test of time and are part of my transition program, Stepping into Success.

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1. Create a vision of success that is both realistic and achievable.

What does success look and feel like? First, help your child recall his past successes, then discuss what steps he took to achieve them. Have him write down these steps. Then help him decide on specific and achievable goals for (1) the first month of school, (2) the first term, (3) the first semester, (4) and, finally, for the end of the first year. For the first week in middle school, a goal could be to take all supplies to school, write down every assignment, and complete homework by 8 p.m. on weeknights. For a high schooler, a goal for the first term could be to earn a B or above in every subject. Once your child has a goal, have him write how he imagines he’ll feel when he achieves it. The key to success is to write about the goal as if it had already been achieved, including all the vivid feelings that accompany success.

2. Map out a series of steps that lead to the goal.

Most kids need help with breaking down a task — especially a goal — into distinct and progressive steps. Success needs to be a built-in factor at each step, therefore each step should be small and achievable. Let your child do most of the talking and writing about what she needs to do to reach her goal. If you hold back, she will feel more in control of the process and will be more likely to follow her plan.

3. Anticipate and prepare for obstacles.

Unexpected obstacles can stop a kid in his tracks. Help your child brainstorm what obstacles he might encounter and how to best overcome them. You can jump in with questions and suggestions — how to handle a missed assignment, for example, by being part of a buddy system so he would always have someone to contact. By teaching your child to be prepared for obstacles, you give him the gift of confidence that he can handle unwelcome surprises.

4. Build in self-monitoring tools.

Help your child learn to keep herself accountable. One way is to create a checklist to establish routines to stay on track. These lists will vary from child to child. One child might benefit from making a list the night before so she remembers what she needs to bring to school. By listing and checking off tasks, your child develops self-monitoring skills, becomes self-directed, and experiences pride in his abilities. As a parent, you can watch his competence grow and little by little, hand over the reins of control.

5. Prioritize, plan, proceed.

Help your child sort her tasks into daily, weekly, and long-term categories. Then together decide which task must be done immediately and estimate the time it will take to complete. After the tasks are sorted into their categories, encourage your child to start with an easy task you’re sure she can complete independently. Tackling an easy job first tends to build both success and momentum.

All parents understand: school transitions are hard. But hard doesn’t have to be painful, not if we go into transition periods prepared and teach our children to be prepared. Successful transitions require certain skills, and these skills can be nurtured. Give my transition tips a try. I’d love to hear how they work for you and your new middle school or high schooler. Good luck!