Finishing 8th Grade Strong

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Originally published February 19, 2020

Transitions are tricky. If you are staring down the last few months of eighth grade, you probably feel a mix of excitement and nervous energy, perhaps along with some love of your school and even just plain annoyance at the people around you. Transitions like this one usually come with deeply mixed emotions for everyone, so watching your reactions to that mix can help you get through the joys, anxieties, and confusions in front of you. 

Your friends probably feel like the most important part of school right now. You have grown up together in middle school (or maybe even all the way back to kindergarten!), so you share a lot of history. You remember every awkward moment, every social and academic triumph. There is something immensely comforting about having friends who know every silly thing you have ever done and who love you anyway. 

But you know… they’re also probably a lot sometimes. 

Everyone is feeling a ton of emotions right now, because change, even exciting change, is HARD. You might find yourself rolling your eyes at your lunch table gang’s gossiping and rehashing old stories when you are thinking about the adventures ahead. Or you might be hurt that you want to hang all the time with your best friend and don’t understand why she seems like she is distracted and pulling away.

Let yourself feel everything… but this is a great time to remember that each emotion shouldn’t have the power to rule your life. Right now, your brain is developing exactly the skills you need to manage this process. Your brain is better at making decisions than it was just a few years ago – so take a deep breath and trust it! Take some time to think through a situation, to consider the consequences of an action, and then figure out how you want to move forward. 

One great strategy for trusting yourself to making the right call when someone (a friend or anyone else) is behaving in a way that frustrates, upsets, or confuses you is to focus on what the experts call mindful breathing. You are experiencing a lot of emotions and a lot of other stressors in this transition, but often, the adults around you won’t recognize how challenging all this can be. And your friends are also all experiencing their own mix of things, so they might not be the best source of calm.

Learning to focus on your breathing – maybe before you head to school or for just a few minutes at the start of a difficult class – gives you a great tool for managing tough moments in a way that will make you proud. Research shows that mindful breathing practice can actually keep your brain strong and healthy for years to come.

To sum up: find ways to love your friends and avoid the drama. 

Teachers can also seem like an annoyance hovering over everything at the end of 8th grade. You know how hard you have worked for years to get where you are, and maybe you are looking for a little relief. After all, you may be more focused on your friends than on your classes at this particular moment. Rather than lighten up at this point, though, many 8th grade teachers suddenly start acting like you are already in high school. The constant refrain of “in high school, you will need to be independent and responsible” rings through the hallways and usually means your teacher is ramping up your academic responsibility. 

The thing is, they’re right. And they’re also wrong. High school teachers will expect you to take charge of your own learning and to develop independent skills and responsibility. They’ll also teach you how to do that and support you along the way. So don’t panic. And don’t give your teachers attitude for the reminders. But DO try to listen and learn ways to manage your time and your schoolwork. 

In fact… now is a great time to take on MORE learning. 

One of the best strategies you can have for academic and personal preparation for high school is to read. Yes, I KNOW you don’t have much free time, but still, try to prioritize reading. You will be glad you did. Reading helps develop your vocabulary, your critical thinking, and your ability to entertain yourself and find some peace when people around you are stressing out. Those skills are hugely important for success in high school. Schoolwork might seem like such a pain on these gray late winter days, so digging in to a book or graphic novel of your choice can help reignite the part of your brain that gets excited about learning. 

Whether it is your friends, your school, or maybe your clingy little brother, try to take each emotion you feel and see both sides. You might be annoyed because your mom is constantly asking you to set the table when you KNOW you need to do homework. But maybe she’s also just trying to give you a break from the academic stress she sees building up. Question yourself to see if you can tell why you are reacting in a particular way and give yourself some time to breathe so that you can choose a reaction you feel good about. That way, you can spend all spring celebrating your accomplishments, cheering on your friends, and preparing yourself academically and emotionally for the next big step on your educational journey.