Making the Transition

Frederick County students will return to school for the 2019-2020 academic year on Sept. 3. It is a time of change, particularly for students making the transition from elementary school into middle school, and middle school into high school.

Children who are used to being the oldest students in elementary school become the youngest students in middle school, and 8th graders who are used to being at the top in middle school find themselves at the bottom in high school. There are new lockers, new classrooms, new teachers, and new responsibilities and expectations. Some children and teens find the changes difficult to navigate on their own.

According to UNICEF, “Supportive and responsive relationships within the family are the building blocks of the social and emotional development required for children’s success in school.” But parents often find it difficult to recognize when their children are struggling.

“The biggest warning sign that a child or teen is having difficulty adjusting is a big change in personality,” said Kristine Boehmer, a licensed clinical professional counselor from Bright Horizons Family Counseling, LLC, in Urbana. “An outgoing kid might become more withdrawn, or a typically easygoing teen may become angry and defiant. These are not the usual, gradual changes we usually see with growth or the typical personality shifts as they try to figure out who they are, but a darker shift that lasts for weeks to months that often worsens as time goes on.”

A mood disorder study recently published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology (2019) found that between the mid-2000s and 2017, “rates of recent serious psychological distress, past-year major depression episode, and past-year suicide-related outcomes (suicidal ideation, plans, attempts and deaths by suicide) increased among adolescents aged 12 to 17.”

But children don’t always look like they’re in distress. “The biggest piece parents tend to miss,” said Boehmer, “is that these kids can still have happy moments, but overall, they’re struggling.”

Boehmer helps parents and students find healthy coping mechanisms. “A simple mindfulness/grounding skill that most children, teens and adults find helpful is 5-4-3-2-1. Just take a moment to reach out with your five senses: What are 5 things you see? What are 4 things you can feel? What are 3 things you can hear? What are 2 things you can smell? What is 1 thing you can taste? If you can’t taste anything, you could add something to taste, like chewing a piece of gum.”

Boehmer said, “This technique helps someone bring themselves back to the present moment instead of getting caught up in the worries or thoughts in their mind.”

Parents can find support for their children through their child’s school guidance counselors as well as private mental health professionals. Another important local resource is Mental Health Association of Frederick, which offers free mental health services, including a 24-hour call center at 301.662.2255 as well as walk-in behavioral health services at 226 South Jefferson St., Frederick from noon to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

Other communication options available for children include Phone Friend for those in first through fifth grades at 301.694.8255; a live chat service at; and the Maryland Crisis Hotline at 1.800.422.0009. If your child is feeling suicidal, they can call the
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.8255 (TALK).


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