I have helped children manage through their transitions between year groups and stages of education for over ten years.
This has led to my understanding of exactly what the common fears and misconceptions are about starting High School / Secondary School.
In this post, I will teach you what we as educators – and you as parents can do to make the process of transition more smooth for your child.
Anxiety and negativity usually stem from not knowing what to expect. Read on to help you and your child understand what is to come in High School and find ways to beat the fear and embrace the excitement!
High School / Secondary School (whatever you want to call it)…we all have our own memories of it.
However, since WE went to High School, a lot of things have changed! In order to be able to properly support your child, you need to be prepared for the new changes.
Seeing your child move up to the next stage of their education can be VERY daunting for a parent! You have your own worries and concerns. You might even have mini panic-attacks about bullying or how your child will cope with the extra workload.
Guess what though…That’s ok.
You are allowed to feel that way.
Most parents do.
This post is not only about what you can do to support your child’s transition into High School, but also what you can do to help you to accept the new challenges and be a stronger parent in the face of change!
Be positive and enthusiastic
You are your child’s energy right now!
If you are outwardly anxious or negative, they will feed off that and develop those feelings themselves. Try to speak about things in a positive way – for example, try saying:
“You must be really excited to be going to such a big school that has so much space to play?”
“You must be nervous about going to a school that is so big?”
Get what I’m saying? Positivity has a HUGE impact on how you perceive the World and events – and how you are perceived. Read this post to learn why Positivity really is that good for you!
Of course you have your own concerns.
You are a parent after all. But, try to be mindful of the fact that this is a HUGE transition for your child.
He/she is feeling a multitude of emotions right now and needs to have an enthusiastic parent to guide them in knowing that this is a positive move in their life, rather than a scary one.
I’m not saying you should ignore their doubts – I have addressed this specifically later in this post. I am just saying that it is a fact that your child will be influenced by the way that you feel or speak.
So, try to keep things positive. You could even start a scrapbook of all their favourite things about their new school life. This one is awesome! It is mature but still fun for a teenager to put their school memories in.
I wish I had thought of this stuff when I was a kid…I only had Gameboy photos! (puts hands over face in shame!)
Discuss any changes in how people might treat them
One of the main things that children worry about when making the transition to High School is how they will be treated by the teachers and the older kids.
Here are just a few of the (many) things that students have said to me before transitioning onto the next stage in their education:
- What if the teachers don’t like me?
- Will the teachers expect me to know everything already?
- Will I be allowed to put my hand up to ask questions?
- What if I need the toilet? (I was actually asked this, poor kid!)
- Are the bigger children scary?
- I’m scared I’ll get bullied. What do I do if I get bullied?
Yes, it is true that people and expectations change in Secondary School / High School, but the changes are a lot less extreme than most children imagine!
In many of the school’s where I have worked, there is a “no-hands-up” rule (to make inclusion and teacher differentiation easier). This is something your child will get used to. It is a lot better than the same students always putting their hand up, because the teacher can do more targeted questioning towards the students they think might struggle.
Teachers also ask higher-level questions to those students who they think are excelling – so don’t worry if your child is top of the class, they won’t get pulled down through a lack of questioning.
There may be changes in how often your child is allowed to go to the toilet (not directly after break or lunch, for example), but if they have a medical condition or a weak bladder, you can mention it to the school and they will make exceptions.
The teachers tend to have no expectations for new students. Not in a negative way. Just because different Primary and Middle Schools provide different levels of teaching and learning expectations etc.
The students that join my Music class at the start of their first year in Secondary School are extremely varied in experience. I may have one student who is a Grade 5 on Piano, and another student who doesn’t even know how to clap in time to a simple rhythm.
This is ok though.
Us teachers are not Ogres!
We are there to TEACH. Not to criticise children’s abilities. If they are not able to do something, we just help them.
The older students can definitely seem scary to younger students. They are bigger, more intimidating, more forceful, more rough, and generally more experienced of how the school environment works.
…And it’s a BIG But! (Haha!)
Seriously though, most students are amazing and friendly. They are helpful and kind. All they tend to do is say how “cute” the younger children are with their over-sized backpacks and innocent outlooks on life. They are a lot more supportive of new students than many might think.
Try to remind your child that they WILL make friends. Teachers WILL like them. They will probably get told off and get a detention at some point in their High School life, but it won’t hurt them. It will just prepare them for the “Real World”.
Help your child to be prepared…
You do NOT want to be stressing out on the first day of term!
Your child should prepare their books (if they have been given any for the first day), uniform, travel pass and lunches the day before. This will save time in the morning and will allow for you both to have a nice, calm start to the first day.
Make sure your child knows how to “tie their tie” (if they have one), as they may get into trouble if they do not have it done up properly at school. Have them SHOW you how their school uniform should be presented and what books or stationary they will need.
If you are not sure what they will need, have them take in a small notepad and a basic stationary kit (like one of these) just in case.
The stationary kit is a must! My school gives a detention just for a student not having a pencil!!
Understand the School routine
Make sure your child knows what time everything happens. What time does he/she need to be lining up in the morning for registration? What time is break and lunch? Are there any special assemblies for the first week?
Make sure they know, otherwise they will get there late…not a good start to their first week!
Once your child gets their lesson timetable and homework timetable (probably on the first day), you can work together to create one for at home. This will help you to stay on top of things and it will also help to promote independence in your child. There is no excuse for missing deadlines if you have them clearly stuck to the fridge!
I LOVE this Dry Wipe Whiteboard Planner! It gives you up to seven whole weeks (the length of an average term/semester) of planning space and your child can add and remove their homework etc. as they complete it!
Encourage your child to talk to you about their feelings.
Many of the thousands of student’s (and parents) I have worked with over the years have expressed the following emotions before, during and just after their transitions to school:
- Anxiety – Worry about almost anything: Work, peers, teachers, rules, expectations
- Fear – Scared of leaving their comfort zone, fear of being bullied
- Sadness – Leaving old friends and teachers, leaving their old “reality”
- Stress – Getting everything prepared, the dramatic change in workload and homework
- Joy – Happy that they are finally at this stage of their lives
- Anticipation – Excitement about the changes
The more comfortable your child is talking to you about this stuff, the more you can actually do about it (with regards to communicating with the school). Your child will also feel much better about it all, as you will be able to help ease their worries (or share their joy and excitement).
The last thing you want is a teenager who is scared to open up or to communicate their emotions properly. This will cause them to retreat into their own little space and they will actively enjoy High School less.
Do YOU model good communication?
You should communicate the positive feelings that you have with your child. Tell them how proud you are that they are ready for this change and how well they are doing at preparing for it. Explain to them how much they will enjoy it once they start learning about more interesting things and having all of those fantastic opportunities available to them.
If your child is not one to share their deepest thoughts and feelings, try getting them to write their concerns on a piece of paper and put it in a box (or even an old Jam Jar). This way, you can see what they are going through and confront it in the way that you know best. After all, you know your child better than anyone.
Encourage Independence and Organisation
Two of the things that I can guarantee WILL be expected of your child in High School are independence and organisation skills!
- They WILL be expected to bring in their own school planner, books and stationary.
- They WILL be expected to be wearing the correct uniform in the correct way. My current school gives out a detention if a shirt is not tucked in or if the tie is not showing the logo clearly!
- They WILL be expected to submit their homework on time and to a good standard.
These are the basics of what will definitely be expected of them. If they don’t do these simple things, they will probably end up with a lot of detentions. Just saying.
These “simple” things are actually a huge change in what your child is used to. That is why they need your help to grow and develop that independence.
High School is preparing children for the real world and providing them with life skills – not just academic knowledge.
At this stage of their education, they are expected to start becoming organised enough to be able to manage their own school life – without the need of a nagging parent hanging over their shoulder.
When at school, your child will need to be able to tie their own tie or tie their own shoelaces. You would be surprised how many new students have ZERO idea how to tie their own shoe laces…or even hold cutlery properly!!
Seriously, it amazes me!
Be open to opportunities
So many amazing opportunities are available to students in High School these days!
- Before-school, after-school and lunchtime clubs
- Day trips to exciting subject-specific venues and events
- Trips to other parts of the country – or even trips abroad (Ski trips, educational trips etc.)
- Instrumental music lessons and choir performances
- Sports teams and fixtures (my school regularly sends graduates to the US with Basketball Scholarships)
- Additional sessions for homework or targeted extension lessons for students who are behind with work
- Subject-specific projects (we have had the Royal Opera House do projects with our students)
- Visits from outside influences (politicians, musicians, actors, footballers etc.) We have regular visits from the Lord Mayor, in which the School Choir and Jazz Band perform
- Summer and school holiday camps
- Meeting people from a diverse range of backgrounds, cultures and religions
These are only some of the opportunities that your child will probably be offered.
Your child’s new school will probably have even more than this. Just ask them and they will be able to tell you what they can offer.
Start thinking about these fantastic offers early. Talk to your child about what they might be able to do and see if they show an early interest in anything specific. If they are already talented or very interested in something, mention it to the school at an Open Day and find out if they offer these things. This will also give you a better idea of whether that school will suit your child well or not.
Attend Open Day events
As an educator, I love Open Days!
It is so fun meeting the prospective new students and seeing how they act in a new environment.
Open Day events are a great way for the students and parents to meet their new teachers and peers, and it gives them a good “feel” of the school environment.
During High School Open Days, you normally get a tour of the whole school so your child can get an idea of where his/her lessons will be. You will both also be able to ask any questions you want (your child might want to delegate you to do this for them at the start).
It is never a good idea to enrol your child in a new school without first attending an Open Day.
School Buddy system
Most High Schools have a fabulous system called the ‘Buddy System’ (some may have a different, but similar name).
This is where all new students have a “buddy” to help them settle in to the school.
Your child’s buddy will be an older student (normally a well-behaved one), who will stay with them at (almost) all times in their first few days. Some schools extend this to a week – or even two, depending on how your child is settling in.
From my experience, the students who embrace the buddy system end up making good friends and settle in much faster.
Those new students who make an issue out of it – or even downright refuse to be accompanied by someone else (yes, this does happen every now and then), tend to find it much harder to settle in and meet new people.
Know the travel plans
Most children travel between 15-45 minutes to get to High School.
Some students walk, get the school bus or get public transport.
Some are even given a lift in a car by a family member or in a “car pool” type thing with a friends parents.
If your child is travelling to school alone and is using public transport, make sure you practice together a few times before-hand so that your child gets accustomed to the best route.
It is always a good idea to have an alternative route planned out, just incase there is a diversion or an incident which means they cannot travel home their usual way.
If you collect them after school, what will you do if you can’t make it to pick them up on time?
Always make sure you have a back-up safety plan! Can you arrange for someone else to collect them? If you do this, be sure to use a “password”. Tell your child (and the school) the password before-hand and don’t forget to also give the password to the person you have delegated to pick your child up from school.
Be Involved at School AND at Home!
I can’t stress this one enough!
It drives me insane on Parents Evening when I am sitting opposite the parents (or parent) of a child who is doing amazingly well in lessons – but they couldn’t give two hoots!!
Your child is excelling. Be proud.
Your child is looking to you for acknowledgement that their hard work is paying off. Be present.
…it really winds me up!
The same thing applies to those students with disgusting attitudes or behaviour. I can’t tell you how many times I have sat in the staff room talking with other teacher’s about a certain student’s behaviour in our lessons that day. We can’t help but just wonder why the child acts this way.
It often becomes clear once we meet the parents! This is not to say that all kids are naughty because of their parents. I was a little sh*t and my parents are amazing!! It is just that a LOT of student’s have actually said things to me like:
- “There’s no point in phoning home. My mum won’t answer.” (this is for good reasons, as well as bad)
- “Well, my dad doesn’t care what I do, so a meeting won’t make a difference!” (obviously for bad reasons)
You already know you have to (and hopefully want to) be involved in your child’s academic performance at High School. But, you also have to show an interest in their homework. This is HUGELY (is that even a word?) under-appreciated by too many parents.
Homework is how we, as educators, can gauge a better understanding of what your child understands when they are on their own. Not with their peers or a teacher. Not with their textbooks or the display walls. Just, on their own.
We use homework as a way to learn more about the child’s individual abilities outside of the classroom. As much as you might not like to hear it, we have an average of about 30 student’s in each class. It is almost impossible to get around to each of them for a worthwhile amount of time in every single lesson. By worthwhile, I mean that we need to give them accurate and helpful feedback and extensions. We can’t do this is just 2 minutes.
What can you do to make doing homework easier?
Being a part of your child’s homework routine offers you a (very important) glimpse into the work they are doing. Why not ask them to “teach” you what they have learnt?
If your child is like many children who don’t want to have to tell their parent/s about everything they have to do, give the whiteboard homework planner a chance (this one that I mentioned earlier). That way, you will be able to SEE everything, without having to ask them every day.
Don’t worry if you already understand the topic they are covering…just pretend you don’t. Similarly, don’t be embarrassed if you don’t understand. High School work nowadays is crazy hard!! Just embrace the chance to actually LEARN from your own child. You’ll be surprised how clever they actually are.
WHEN PREPARING YOUR CHILD FOR HIGH SCHOOL…REMEMBER:
- Prepare yourself first: So you are able to support your child in the right way
- Be positive and enthusiastic: Don’t let your child sense your anxiety
- Discuss any changes in how people might treat them: Expectations will change, but they will adapt
- Be prepared: Don’t panic from lateness. Make sure your child doesn’t get in trouble for silly things
- Communication: Make sure your child can talk to you about anything
- Encourage Independence and Organisation: Two of the main big things that WILL be expected
- Be open to opportunities: Take hold and seize the fantastic chances to excel and have fun
- Attend Open Day events: Be sure you and your child like the school and meet the teachers etc.
- School Buddy system: Make friends early, have a support system in place from the start
- Know the travel plans: Safety first
- Be Involved at School AND at Home: Just do it!
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