How to help your child succeed in middle school

Communication is the key to success in Middle School
Communication is the key to success in Middle School

Last week Mrs. Smith came to visit me and discuss her daughter, Sarah. Sarah is in seventh grade and has been struggling all year. Last year in sixth grade Sarah earned all A’s and B”s on her report card.  Sarah has a history of doing well in school. At the beginning of seventh grade Sarah began experiencing difficulty in a class or two, but she promised her mother that she would work harder and handle it. All year long Sarah promised her mother that she would do better. However, Sarah was not able to take control of her schoolwork and pull up her grades.

Teacher comments on Sarah’s report cards consistently stated that she was missing homework and doing poorly on tests. Sarah’s mother trusted her because Sarah had always done well in school. Mrs. Smith did not realize until too late that Sarah needed some academic support to help her to well in seventh-grade.

This story is important. The transition between elementary school and middle school can place an extraordinary load on a child’s organizational, planning and follow-through skills. Many students have not developed, or needed, executive functioning skills prior to middle school. The tragedy of this is when you have a strong student like Sarah who suddenly fails three classes.

It is important for parents to realize what they need to do to help their children succeed in middle school. I wish that Sarah’s mother had come to us in October or November of last year and we could have set up a plan to help her get her work done and turned in on time.

Communication is the key to success.

The communication needs to be between the teachers, the parents and the child. This sounds like a simple task, but as many middle school parents know it is not. If your child is at a school where teachers have an online homework program, that they actually keep up to date, then it is important for parents and students to check that online tool and make sure the child knows what needs to be done and when it needs to be turned in.

Many middle school teachers find it difficult to keep these online homework sites updated.  Without the online homework check it can become a challenge for parents to know what assignments their child has. So what can you do?

  •  Have a meeting with the teacher
  • Find a friend who is a good note taker and is willing to help update your child on what is due
  • Have your child take a picture of the assignments listed on the board
  •  Request that the school give you weekly updates on unfinished assignments and outstanding homework
  • Check in with your child every night, go through the notebook and planner to help them get organized.
  •  Create a homework calendar where weekly and monthly assignments are written down
  • Understand that you are teaching your child the steps to success and that this is a process that will take time.
  •  Don’t wait more than a month if your child begins to struggle in school
  • Ask for help and find a system that works for your family

Middle school is a very exciting and trying time as your child goes through developmental growth, both mentally and physically. It is a time when children require more independence, however they are not always ready for parents to step back completely. This is the time period where parents transition from teacher to coach, guiding their children to develop the skills that they need to succeed.

4 Responses

  1. Mellie Marlie


    My 16 year old son has just had an evaluation and he was given the following scores on the test:
    PRI 134, VCI 131, WMI 110, PSI 75
    As you can see there is a big difference between his Processing Speed and his Perceptual Reasoning and Verbal Comprehension, and his Processing Speed Index was classified as “Borderline”. They said that he will be slower on certain tasks and and also recommended that he see an OT to help him with his deficiency. Other than that they didn’t give me much else. I don’t understand how exactly this affects him, though i do notice he is a bit slow on some activities. How does the combination of the factors above translate into his abilities?

    • Melissa Mullin, Ph.D.

      I just wrote a report on a student with this profile. Here is what my comments are:

      Your child has developed a strong vocabulary and is easily able to explain his understanding of socially based concepts. Your child’ ability to quickly and efficiently process auditory information, especially verbal information, is excellent. His ability to perform visual spatial problem solving is also very strong.

      However, while your child demonstrates well-developed cognitive skills and is a diligent worker, his ability to process information at the level his reasoning skills suggest is compromised by several factors present in testing. First, your child’s ability to read and synthesize material in a timely manner may be affected by his weakness in visual-discrimination and processing speed. His weak processing speed impacts his ability to process visual information as quickly as his strong cognitive skills suggest. This can impact his ability to read, write and perform math problem quickly.

      Taken together, the significant discrepancy of 59 points between Your child’ Verbal Comprehension and his Processing Speed Indexes; along with the 56 and 35 point differences between Perceptual Organization and Working Memory Indexes and Processing Speed Index, reflects a need for extended time on academic tasks and tests. Therefore, it is recommended that your child be granted extended time on all assignments and tests, including standardized testing such as the SAT and ACT. Furthermore, Your child’s current profile confirms that a visual perceptual and visual motor processing deficit continues to be present, and accommodations are warranted to allow your child additional time on all academic tasks.

      Your child is an intelligent individual whose diligent efforts have allowed him to compensate for his learning disability. However, his learning disability continues to cause him to experience stress and requires excessive amounts of time to achieve to him potential.


      • It is recommended that the results of this evaluation be shared with your child so he may understand his profile of strengths and weaknesses and can adjust his learning and study strategies accordingly.
      • Based upon Your child’s status as a student with a Learning Disability, he should be provided the following accommodations:
      o Extra time on tests (at least 50%)
      o Extended time (at least 50%) on all standardized tests including ACT, SAT and AP tests

      Improve Your child’s Working Memory, Attention and Executive Functioning Skills
      • The CogMed program is recommended to build your child’s working memory, which will help support his attention processing.
      • A program designed to improve Your child’s executive functioning skills (such as the K & M Center Executive Functioning Program) is recommended.
      • A program designed to increase Your child’s cognitive flexibility is also recommended (such as the K & M Cognitive Flexibility Program).
      • Teach Your child to use self-talk to organize his learning and performance strategies and to focus his attention on tasks
      • Build strategies to help Your child analyze, prioritize, and execute specific steps in a given assignment
      • Break down tasks and follow the order checking work along the way
      • Teach strategies to increase engagement

      • Encourage pre-writing activities such as brainstorming and outlining
      • Use of Inspiration ( and Dragon Speak Naturally ( to help him organize his thoughts and share them.
      • Re-Train the Brain ( can help fine motor skills to make writing easier.

      Visual-Perceptual Strategies
      • Use of graphic organizers to depict information visually and increase his retention of ideas.
      • Note-taking techniques that will present and summarize heard information visually.
      • Exercises to sharpen his ability to attend to visual detail and to express similarities and differences between images.

      Processing Speed
      • Allow extra time for tests, usually time and a half
      • Provide extra time for Your child to complete in-class assignments
      • Train your child in time management techniques to become aware of the time that tasks take.

      • Mellie Marlie

        Thank you Melissa! I do see a lot of those qualities in my son.

        My son also can be difficult to deal with. He often does not like to work on any work assigned to him (It’s difficult to get him to do homework), which causes him to sometimes not hand in homework assignments. He actually doesn’t like to do anything that requires effort. He is also quite disorganised, and procrastinates very often. Socially, he is withdrawn and shy and he does not talk to people so much, even to people he knows, unless the person is someone who is close to them. He does have a few friends, and he can be lively around them. I wouldn’t say he has any deficits in communication, as he can still communicate well, and I think he just does not prefer to communicate or is shy.

        Does his scores on the WISC IV above have any relation to what I am describing above?

      • Melissa Mullin, Ph.D.

        I do not see any WISC scores included. The issue of your son’s lack of desire to communicate could be due to many reasons. There is a great book out called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
        by Susan Cain. This might be a good book for you to read to determine if your son is an introvert which may explain his lack of interaction with people around him.

        The issue of his disorganization and difficulty completing homework may be due to weak executive functioning skills. You can learn more about executive functioning at

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