"Children are going through adolescence and puberty, and they are experiencing changes at school," said Dr. Lou Ann Todd Mock, a psychologist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
The nurturing environment of elementary school is a dramatic contrast to the middle school, or junior high. There will be a world of class changes, increased discipline, larger student bodies and fewer personal relationships with teachers.
All this change tends to intensify any existing behavior problems.
"Conduct problems may increase, and the larger school often makes it easier to skip class," Mock said. "Children who have been depressed or withdrawn may become more so."
Mock urges parents to be aware of the following events common to middle school:
Peer groups begin to exert tremendous pull.
Independence is shown in clothing and hairstyles.
Grades can fluctuate at the start of school due to new class routines.
Identity questions arise -- who am I? what am I going to be?
Substance abuse becomes more prevalent.
Sexual identity and sexual activity become issues.
"This also is the time when children become terminally embarrassed by their parents," Mock said.
"Wise parents understand that and do not take it too personally."
She suggests that parents help bridge the gap between elementary and middle school by being aware of and willing to talk about the additional stresses their child is facing.
"Communication is vitally important during the next few years," Mock said.
"Remain non-judgmental, non-critical and available. Your goal is to raise a child who is independent but can also feel comfortable talking to you."
Parental involvement at school can be a positive influence, as can a child's involvement in after-school activities.
"Be supportive of any interest your child shows in developing a talent or skill," Mock said.
"These activities provide your child with a supportive and positive peer group."
Focusing on the positives is another key to surviving this often-confusing time.
"Work toward an encouraging environment at home," Mock said. "When discussing some needed change, let your children know that you still think they are wonderful. Even as they try their wings, your approval and support remain important."