Starting high school is different for different kids. Change has a strange electric charge to it. For some it sparks excitement. For others, it is utterly depleting and leaves them feeling frightened, confused and ultimately burnt out.
Kids worry about complicated timetables, getting lost, new faces and then there’s the awful scratchy new uniform. So how can we support kids in this major transition in their lives?
Practical things parents can do for a child starting high school:
1 Be available before and after school for the first few weeks. If this isn’t possible, try to organise for a grandparent, relative or sparent to be at home. Your child will have a lot on their mind and may be in need of the security that you can provide.
2. Listen. Remember that your child is likely to be quite overwhelmed for the first few weeks at their new school. Try not to add to this feeling by bombarding them with questions as soon as they get home. When they are ready to talk, it is important to listen in order to understand, not just to comment or to try to fix things.
3. Ask good questions. ‘How was school?’ isn’t going to elicit the sort of information you will be keen to know. This blog post offers some useful alternatives.
4. Help your child be organised. Now that your child has many different teachers, different classrooms and a different timetable each day, they will need to get organised and stay that way. If you can help them learn good habits right from the start you will be doing them a great service.
5. Build a relationship with your child’s key teachers. The relationship between a child and their teacher is incredibly important to their success and wellbeing. Be positive. Undermining the teachers is undermining your child.
6. Communicate. Some parents are anxious about telling staff about their child’s struggles. They are afraid that they will be labelled and compartmentalised. The truth is, schools need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of a student in order to best support them and guide them in their learning. So, now that teachers have met your child…speak up.
7. Create a great study environment at home. If you have the luxury of space at home set up a homework and study area where your child has all the resources they need. Show them how to store the work they do each day for each subject in an orderly fashion.
8. Establish a quiet time when your child routinely completes their homework. The school will likely give guidelines on how long your child should devote to homework and study each night. Make sure that time is social media free. No child can multi-task, no matter what they say. Apps like Self Control will help them take responsibility for their own self-discipline in this area. It’s good for adults too!
9. Involve your child in decision making. Decisions about co-curricular activities, homework times and other details of the school week should ideally involve your child. They are getting older and need to start taking ownership of these aspects of their lives. Remind them that with decision making comes more responsibility. They are responsible for getting themselves organised and keeping you informed of their school obligations.
10. Encourage your child to bring friends home. It will help your child build new friendships if they have the opportunity to socialise outside of the confines of school. It will also allow you to meet other parents and start to become involved in the school community.
Advice Parents Can Give Kids About Starting High School:
1. Be patient. It won’t feel “normal” at first, but as you learn your way around your new school and get used to the new people and routines, it will.
2. Think positively. Rather than worrying about what could go wrong this year, think about all the great things that could go right. You have so many new opportunities. You are smart enough. You are good enough. You are enough.
3. Get involved. Find out which co-curricular activities in the school are in tune with your interests. Joining a team or a group is a good way to meet like-minded people and make new friends.
4. Keep in touch with your old friends. Old friends are great. They make you feel safe and secure. However, try not to let your old friends get in the way of making new friends. If you are spending all your time communicating, or hanging out, with old friends, you won’t have a chance to welcome all the great new people into your life.
5. If you’re not sure…ask. Staff are aware that everything is new to you. They won’t mind you asking for help and it’s a lot better than that yucky feeling of being lost or unsure.
6. Write things down. You will be getting lots and lots of new information from teachers, the IT department, library staff and many other parts of the school. Nobody’s memory is that good. Don’t panic too much though, if it is really important, it will be repeated.
7. Focus on setting small goals and achieving them. Your goals to start with might be taking the right books to class, working the lock on your locker, or going a whole day without getting lost. Later your goals can be about academic results or leadership, service or co-curricular opportunities. Research shows that if you write down your goals you are more likely to achieve them. I repeat…you are smart enough. You are capable.
8. Eat properly and sleep properly. Any anxiety you have will be made worse by poor diet and sleep hygiene (Yes…we call it hygiene. Weird!). On the other hand, great sleep and great diet help set you up to be the best you can be. Your brain needs nutrition and rest, so help it out.
9. Practice gratitude. The Emmons study shows us that people who practice gratitude every day are 25% happier than those who don’t and they also have less stress, greater resilience and better social relationships. Stating something you are grateful for would be a great way to start and end each day as you transition through this period of life. Maybe do this with whoever picks you up or drops you off to school, or quietly to yourself on the bus.
10. Be kind to yourself. You will make mistakes and that’s okay.
However your child reacts to change, starting high school is a big deal for them…and for you. Take the time to enjoy it. Photograph it. Smile. This is one of life’s big moments.
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Linda Stade has worked in various teaching and management roles in education for twenty-eight years. She has worked in government and private schools, country and city, single-sex and co-ed. Currently, she is the Research Officer at Santa Maria College, Western Australia. She is available as a speaker and freelance writer.