High Achievers: Easing the Middle School to High School Transition

Stress and the transition to high school

The transition from middle school to high school can be a stressful time for students (and their parents)— and it can be particularly stressful for high achieving students who are entering accelerated high school coursework, such as International Baccalaureate (IB) programs or enrolled in Advanced Placement (AP) classes. If your child is a high achiever and approaching high school age you may find the tips below to be helpful in fostering healthy coping skills and promoting their well-being. Contact Dr. Audra Walsh today and learn how we can help!


Competing demands

Rigorous college-level courses can be extremely demanding and time-consuming. Many youth feel like there are not enough hours in the day to finish all of their homework, engage in community service and extracurricular activities, interact with family and friends, and take care of their emotional well-being. A common response to this feeling of overwhelming stress is for students to withdraw from others and try to rely on themselves during difficult times.


What can parents and educators do to help?

Researchers from the University of South Florida have identified a few key factors that can help promote academic and emotional well-being for students who are enrolled in rigorous, stressful coursework. Aligned with these research findings, here are some tips to help ease your child’s transition to high school and excel academically and emotionally:

  1. Encourage your child to use “approach” coping strategies. Coping strategies that address the problem head on, instead of avoiding the stressor, are much more effective for reducing stress and increasing wellbeing. A few examples of “approach” coping strategies include using time and task management skills (using a planner), seeking academic tutoring, and using positive thinking strategies.

  2. Encourage your child to build connections to teachers, staff, and friends at school. Students who have relationships with their teachers and peers have more support to lean on in times of stress. They feel more connected to school and consider it a place they enjoy spending time.

  3. Use authoritative parenting practices. Authoritative parenting emphasizes setting high standards and expectations, being emotionally responsive, and allowing children to be independent (within reason). You can find more information about authoritarian parenting here: https://www.parentingscience.com/authoritative-parenting-style.html

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(Suldo, Shaunessy-Dedrick, Ferron, Dedrick, 2018)


Looking for additional support?

Our therapists specialize in supporting high achieving youth and are very familiar with the multitude of stressors that many driven young people face:

  • Competing academic, social, family, extracurricular demands

  • Perfectionism and high expectations

  • Social anxiety

  • Guilt

  • Task paralysis

  • Worry

  • Social difficulties

  • Motivation/procrastination

  • Frequent negative thoughts

  • Quick to frustrate

  • And many many more unique tendencies

After an in-depth initial session we develop an individualized plan using evidence-based cognitive-behavioral and positive psychology strategies designed to help your child thrive.  Our office is located at 6740 Crosswinds Drive N, St. Petersburg, FL 33710. We offer early morning, after school, and evening sessions. We also offer remote therapy for clients across the state of Florida.

We know how stressful and demanding  it can be for young people entering high school (and their parents) -- and it doesn’t have to be that way. Contact us today at audrawalsh.com or send an email to audrawalsh@gmail.com. We’d love to hear from you!

By Camille Hanks and Audra Walsh


Suldo, S. M., Shaunessy-Dedrick, E., Ferron, J., & Dedrick, R. F. (2018). Predictors of Success Among High School Students in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate Programs. Gifted Child Quarterly, 62(4): 350-373.