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Mastering Middle School


When Alexandra Haake was 11, she was nervous and excited about starting sixth grade  -- in Davenport, IA, where she lives, that's when junior high school begins.

"I'd heard that the food was so much better than the goop we got in elementary school," says Haake. "But also that the teachers were really tough."

Great as it is to graduate, moving up to middle school can create anxiety. Here's what your preteen is likely to face, and how you can help:

* A tougher workload. It'll take more studying to do well than it did when she was in elementary school  -- and the amount of homework she has each night might double. Find your middle-schooler a quiet, well-lighted area where she can do homework, and be available to help. Chances are, she'll be getting assignments from different teachers as well as long-range projects that'll require planning. To help her get organized, make sure she has a notebook or folder for each class and a system to keep track of due dates. At the end of each day, have her go through her backpack (middle-schoolers are notorious for forgetting to pass along important papers and school notices) and review her homework list with her.

* A new routine. School may begin earlier or later, last longer, and involve switching classrooms throughout the day. If she seems frustrated at first, remind her of something that used to seem hard but that she's a whiz at now (such as soccer or making a phone call by herself). You can also point out that starting middle school means she's more grown up  -- and then give her a few new privileges to play up the positive: Let her stay up an hour later on weekends, say, or increase her phone time.

* Social issues. A middle-schooler would rather die than feel she doesn't fit in, so to the extent that you can stomach it, indulge her need to look like the other kids and do the things they do. If she complains that last year's like-new pink backpack is babyish, buy her another one. Let her grow out her bangs. By giving in to some of her whims now, you're less likely to find that she's sneaking behind your back when she's older.

When she seems open to it, consider telling her about your own middle-school years. It might be a relief for her to know that you went through many of the same things when you were her age  -- and lived to tell about it!