As children travel through their school years, they go from toddlers, to kids, to tweens, to teens, to adults! It happens quickly, and parents scramble to keep up with the growth, the changes, and transitions. Raising children is an experience of both eternity and a blink of an eye, and the changes are most evident during the “Big Transition Years:”
Kindergarten: Whether your child was in preschool or day care or at home until school started, the shift to Kindergarten is a big one. This is your child’s first year in the “big school” and expectations start to set in for “readiness” of learning. Your child will quickly learn class routines, and while Kindergarten still has a lot of play, love, and fun, your child is expected to be able to follow class directions and rules, be potty trained, have the ability to sit at a table or in a group for a set period of time, and demonstrate social-emotional skills such as sharing, keeping hands to themselves, responding to others, and beginning to regulate their emotions. That’s a lot on a 5 year old’s shoulders!
Middle School: Grades K-5 zoom by. The same child who was dwarfed by his or her backpack is suddenly a tween, ready to navigate the middle school waters. A new school building, a different set of peers, and increased expectations for study habits, organization, and responsibility are placed upon the 6th through 8th grade kids. This is also when social skills become increasingly important. Kids begin to group together based not just on what class they are in, but on shared interests and hobbies, among other reasons. They also have to navigate relationships with an increased number of teachers and adults. Some kids start to fall behind socially, while others act more mature than their years. Kids tend to gravitate towards books that speak to this new experience.
High School: And just like that, middle school is over, and your official teenager is a high-schooler. A teenager, whose brain is not yet developed enough to be able to foresee consequences effectively, is now being told that their academic performance counts. Decisions made in 9th and 10th grade could impact college admissions, scholarships, or potential job opportunities. There are even more choices for peers and friendships, a new set of teachers to forge relationships with, and extracurriculars and activities that can be additional sources of school engagement. Parents are tempted to monitor and nag their child, though this temptation should be avoided. The study skills and habits that are learned and reinforced in high school extend to the college and workforce environment, and natural consequences are powerful teachers.
College: Finally, the biggest change of all. If your teenager is going away to college, they are literally transitioning to a new living environment, in addition to the new school, with yet another set of potential friends and peers. With college comes a sense of freedom, and teenagers may experiment with drinking, substance use, and sexuality. While this is normal, it is also terrifying. Discussing expectations with your teen, and helping him or her define their boundaries can help them make a smart choice when they are faced with peer pressure or a sense of too much freedom. Brains are still developing in college, and so your young adult needs a healthy routine, enough sleep, and a good diet and exercise plan. Helping your child create this structure for themselves will help set a parents mind at ease when your child is hundreds of miles away.
The bottom line is that going through school is an exercise of increasing flexibility, maintaining open lines of communication, and preparations for constant change. Your child’s school experience is his or her own, though it may be tempting to overlay your own experiences, or that of a sibling on him or her. It helps to know what to expect, and we are here to help if any challenges arise.