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Valley schools have been in session for several weeks now, so a number of kids—and parents—are experiencing the “junior high jitters.” Children who sailed through elementary school are struggling for the first time, while others who have always struggled find themselves completely stymied by multiple teachers, assignments, and expectations.

Bewildered parents ask, “What can I do?” I am reminded of a familiar riddle: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

First bite: organization

Make straightening up a nightly routine. Take 10 minutes to go through the abyss that is his backpack with your child, supervise the completion of unfinished work, and help him put things where they belong. Remove anything that has a grade on it, to avoid clutter, and keep it in a folder at home.

Second bite: there is ALWAYS homework!

Be aware of which teachers assign homework and how often. I got it done at school! she says? Great! you say. Show me! At the very least, there are notes and lists to be studied in preparation for upcoming tests, so until your child has a consistent pattern of doing all required work, do NOT accept “I don’t have any homework,” without proof.

Third bite: contact teachers

You have one child. Okay, maybe you have more than one, but most junior high teachers have over 100 students to keep track of. Call or email as soon as you notice a problem with a grade and help your child make an appointment for extra help. He may be uneasy about this at first, but he will get comfortable with it in time, and before long, he’ll be making his own appointments.

Fourth bite: brains under construction

Keep in mind that transitioning to junior high requires a LOT of frontal lobe brain activity from your child, and that is the part of her brain that will be under construction for another 10 years. The junior high environment can be overwhelming for kids, and many don’t have the skills to manage it all independently. So if you’re thinking, “Whew! We made it through elementary school—now this practically grown kid of mine won’t need me as much!” …think again. Your child needs you now, more than ever, to help her navigate all of the thinking and organizing, and planning that is required of her. Be prepared to provide structure, strategies, and emotional support through this transition year. Many children will continue to need that support, although in ever-decreasing amounts, throughout 8th grade and as they make another transition to high school.

Last bite: Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Talk to your child’s school counselor. Sign up for parenting classes that offer opportunities for you to learn more about your child’s development and effective strategies for parenting through the teen years. Before you know it, you will have eaten that whole elephant and your child will be a capable, confident young adult! Dessert anyone?

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