Easing the Transition from Elementary to Middle School for Girls

How do I support My 10-year old daughter during the transition from elementary to middle school?

MOLLY: The reader added that there’s a lot of drama between her 10 year old daughter and her old friends from elementary school. She wondered how she can respect her daughter’s freedom while also teaching her that its not okay to hurt other people’s feelings.

Dr. Susan Rutherford (MOM): I think this is a very difficult time and, as a parent, you need to prepare for it. The way the parent can best help the child is to be available to talk about what’s going on. The parent doesn’t have to solve the problems – they might offer some ideas for solutions – but the idea is to be there for her and to listen to your child.

These kinds of life transitions will pop up again and again: when your child goes into high school and then when she gets ready to go to college. All of these transitional points can be quite difficult for some children, and not so difficult for others. It varies a lot. One way the parent can help a child is by talking about how difficult it can be to integrate new friends with old friends. The parent can assure the child that creating new relationships can take time, and sometimes it still doesn’t work. Children often want to resolve everything right away, but relationships don’t get resolved right away. You can help your child by reminding her that it really takes time to develop new relationships, and that they don’t happen overnight. It takes time and communication with another person to build a relationship.

The child may not be able to integrate all of her old friends with her new ones which is fine.  The parent can help the child by suggesting she invite some of her new friends and her old friends together to a party at her house, and see how that goes.

MOLLY: How much should you be involved as a parent? I mean, these are 11 and 12-year olds.

MOM: Well, parents don’t set up play dates for 12-year olds so it’s really up to the child  to choose which friends she wants to spend time with. The issue is more around helping your child understand that sometimes friendships can be difficult but it’s important for her to always try to be a good person and treat people the way she wishes to be treated. Friendships will usually work themselves out over time.

MOLLY: Also, if she are going to leave her old friends, how does she do it in a way that’s not hurtful.  Or, is that even possible?

MOM: Probably some hurting will go on. But you can do it in a kind way. Generally, relationships kind of evolve. I don’t think this requires a kid to say to an ex-friend that she don’t want to be her friend anymore. I think what happens is that there’s a natural moving away from each other. Her friend may have found new friends to play with. Sometimes it doesn’t happen that way and it’s hurtful. The problem with that is those feelings can be remembered for a lifetime.

MOLLY: I would think that if your child is the one leaving her old friends and making new ones, you would want to encourage her to do that in a way that’s not mean – or perhaps not so exclusive.

MOM: Yes, I think that’s the other thing to teach your child is that relationships do not need to be exclusive. And that you can have friends at different levels of intensity. You can have friends that you say “Hi” to in the hallway and you can have friends that you have sleepovers with.

MOLLY: Maybe she doesn’t even need to verbalize it when she breaks off or moves away from a friendship?

MOM: That’s right. And, as a parent, you can talk to her about it. When she comes home from school, you can ask, “How’s that going with Jeanie?” This opens an opportunity for her to talk about it. Just talking about it can be extremely helpful for kids.

Another thing that can be helpful is if you can share memories of how that happened to you when you were their age. And how that felt to you then. That can be very helpful too.

MOLLY: That’s a really good point – especially for girls. Girls can be really mean to each other, and you don’t want your kid to be that “mean girl.”

MOM: Yes, I think it generally happens more with girls than boys at this age. Boys don’t usually get into that kind of stuff but girls definitely do. And telling them about a painful incident from your own childhood will help your daughter see that she will survive beyond the current drama.

Experience this? Comment below if you’ve had success dealing with the transition from elementary to middle school. Or Contact US if you have other parenting questions you’d like to see addressed.

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