Being ready for the next big step

HIGHER GROUND: All change triggers our biological drive to survive, and early adolescents are already in a massive state of change and struggling with heightened stress levels even before they venture into secondary school.
HIGHER GROUND: All change triggers our biological drive to survive, and early adolescents are already in a massive state of change and struggling with heightened stress levels even before they venture into secondary school.

Beginning secondary school can be daunting, moving from one main teacher, one classroom, a familiar environment with routines, and a circle of familiar peers and friends, to a much more complex set-up.

Former high school teacher, parenting author and mother of four, Maggie Dent has witnessed this transition countless times and has invaluable advice to help families through the first few weeks.

“When I have asked first-time high school students what worries them most about starting school, their responses are similar,” she says. “They worry about things like getting lost, hard work, having their head flushed in a toilet, bullying, getting changed in front of other students for PE, not making friends, losing stuff, saying goodbye to fun – perceiving high school as all about marks and grades, homework, disappointing their parents (especially those in private schools), or being attacked on social media.”

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So what can you do to help? Maggie suggests parents try the following:

  • Talk to your kids about how change impacts everyone and that it’s normal to feel anxious and a bit scared.
  • Help them get prepared – last minute rushing adds to their fragile psyche.
  • Download the school map and plot where toilets are and key areas like science, English, technology, etc.
  • When they come home with their timetable have them explain it to you and make several copies – get them to keep one on their phone and keep a copy on the fridge. Take care to avoid over-intruding or nagging though.
  • Set up a firm bedtime – having good sleep routines is one of the best ways to stay healthy as a growing adolescent.
  • Give your kids a clear idea of what helps their brain work best – water, good food, exercise and sound sleep are essential for learning.
  • Work out technology boundaries for weekdays and weekends and put some agreements in place, including no technology or TV in the bedroom, which will help sleep and can help you stay positively connected.
  • Have good quality parental controls to protect all kids in your house from inappropriate content or excessive usage.
  • Encourage your kids to join an activity they already enjoy. This is a good way to make new friends or maintain existing friendships.
  • Diffuse any ‘catastrophising’ from your child, especially about teachers, subjects and the like. Keep affirming the importance of getting a good education.

Remember, every child navigates this journey differently, so aim to be fair and kind, and stay positive.