By Dr. Jennifer Powell-Lunder
It may be hard to accept that your tween has started middle school. You ask yourself where the time went. While you are so proud of your child's accomplishments, you worry about how you can ensure that he is transitioning smoothly. The end of elementary school marked the beginning of a whole new world with a host of new expectations.
You worry about how he is handling switching classes, staying organized and alert, and navigating the walks from class to class down those packed loud hallways. You try to convince yourself that he is not getting lost in the crowd. Maybe you worry about whether he likes his teachers, is making new friends, is surviving the social scene. Is he paying attention in class? Is he writing all his assignments in his planner and putting his papers in the designated subject folders?
Locker Anxiety: Surprisingly Common
Maybe you worry about his ability to find his locker. Is he be able to stop there between classes? You have this image of him carrying all his books around with him all day. You would have heard something by now, right? Well, maybe not exactly.
Your son or daughter probably has similar concerns. It may surprise you to learn however, that the most common worry tweens relate regarding starting middle school is their ability to easily open and close their locker -- aka "locker anxiety."
In many ways, managing a locker is a symbol of the entire middle school transition. If your tween can quell his anxiety related to managing this feat, the rest of middle school will be easier. So then, how can you encourage confidence in tackling this task? How do you know if he is getting along okay, or simply using avoidance techniques so he doesn't need to face the frustration? What follows are a few suggestions for both you and your tween:
What you can do
1. Engage your child in conversation about the topic. It is helpful to talk through his possible fears or anxieties. You could open with something like, "I remember how nervous I was about dealing with a locker in junior high. I was so worried that I would not be able to get to my locker between classes. I even had trouble working the combination. "
2. If he acknowledges that he is indeed having difficulty, help him practice. Find a lock at home he can use at home. His ability to master this task will send him to school feeling more calm and confident. If he knows he can open his locker, he is more likely to use it.
3. If he tells you that he feels like he doesn't have enough time to get to his locker in between classes, offer to do some after-school practice runs with him. He may scoff at the idea at first however, if you let him know you want to problem solve the issue with him he may agree to try.
4. Keep up with how his locker experience is progressing. Once he knows that you realize how stressful locker maintenance can be, he may feel more relieved, and in time confident and self-assured. You have offered him an opportunity to talk through something about which he may have been embarrassed. This can bring much relief for a tween.
What your tween can do
1. Write down the specific location. A quick map is helpful or just a few helpful clues. If his locker is near the science labs for example, he should make note of that. Writing it down will help him remember.
2. Chat it up with his locker buddies. A little friendly banter with the kids on either side of his locker will help ensure he has someone he can turn to if he does have difficulty with his locker.
3. Once he gets used to his schedule and is aware of the location in the building of each class he should figure out when he will have time to go to his locker. If, for example, he has several classes that are far away from each other and his locker then he should avoid stopping at his locker and carry those books with him.
Making the transition to middle school is both exciting and scary. Locker anxiety is a common concern among most tweens. Unfortunately it is not a topic about which too many tweens feel confident confiding in their parents. Tweens often think it is embarrassing that they are having trouble with their locker. When you help your tween conquer this concern, you ensure that his initial entry into middle school is smooth and successful.
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Jennifer Powell-Lunder, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist and writer specializing in tweens, teens, young adults, and parenting.