The sheer size of a high school building can be overwhelming to the uninitiated. The potential loss of status when moving from big fish in a small pond to tiny minnow in a large ocean can be hard to swallow for some. Add the increased number of teachers and the hormonal changes that accompany puberty and drive emotional and cognitive development and it is little wonder the first year of secondary school often sees a plateauing in learning. Most kids are flat out making new friends and getting used to how secondary school works, so learning takes a back seat for a time.
While it’s easier for those who have a brother or sister already there who can pass on some tips about how to survive secondary school, many don’t have that luxury. Fortunately, there are number of strategies parents can use to make the transition to secondary school easier.
Know the School Space
Familiarity helps reduce anxiety. Most secondary schools have familiarisation programs for incoming students but it helps to reinforce with your young person where the key spaces are – such as administration, toilets, the tuck shop and drinking taps. A trip to the school during the holidays, if possible, can help reassure a nervous secondary school starter.
Make the Leap with Friends
Negotiating new friendships can be stressful so it helps to identify some friends from primary school or outside school that your child can travel with or meet up before school, at lunch breaks and during times when classes aren’t scheduled. This will give them the opportunity to share and compare experiences, which is therapeutic for kids who are experiencing change.
Help with Planning and Organisation
Some students can be overwhelmed by the organisational demands of secondary school. If your child fits this category, be prepared to be on hand to coach your young person in the finer arts of being on time to class, organising work in folders, planning homework time, handing in multiple assignments and filling out forms.
Set up a Designated Study Space in the Home
Now that your young person has hit the big time it’s important that they have a study space to call their own. Keep this outside the bedroom if possible – the bedroom is a space for sleeping and relaxing. Use any area that is reasonably quiet and well lit. Set up a desk with a computer, if possible, along with stationery items.
Establish a Work Schedule
If your child’s primary school homework was given inconsistently then be prepared for a change. Most secondary schools try to coordinate homework between different teachers but there will be more times than not when your child will come home with multiple homework assignments to complete. Build the homework habit early and choose a regular time that allows for breaks. Encourage them to work quickly so that work does not drag on and become demotivating.
Stay Patient and Positive
The social and academic demands of going to secondary school can be mentally draining for young people. Some will miss old friends and the relative comfort of primary school. It’s important for parents to be patient with their young person, to expect a few behaviour blowouts and to be prepared to listen and help them process their new experiences. If your young person has negative experiences, point them in the direction of the good things that may happen during the day.
Your young person’s coping mechanisms are being tested during this time. They can change on a daily basis. If stress becomes overwhelming or persistent to the point that they don’t want to go to school after the initial settling-in period, consider organising some extra assistance. A year-level coordinator, school counsellor or the local doctor can be good starting points should extra assistance be needed.
Starting secondary school is one of many transitions your young person will face in life. With planning and support, your child can make a positive start to secondary school and enjoy an amazing time at their new school.