Starting high school is exciting and scary! Even more so this year in QLD, where many 11-turning-12 year olds entered the high school yard for the first time. As pictures of all the kids heading off to school filled facebook and instagram last term, I thought about how exciting a new year of school can be. And, as I sent my son off to first year of high school this year, I was reminded of my eldest girls first semester of high school and the transitioning that happens.
Here are 5 tips for you as parents and carers to set your new high schooler off to a good start:
1. Be available to talk and debrief
Even though they have probably been waiting for this moment for a long time, starting high school can be scary! Going from being ‘the oldest’ to suddenly ‘the youngest’ can be a challenge. Adjusting to high school teachers when you are used to being cared for by one teacher can be difficult too. Try to set time in your own schedule to ask how its going. Some kids like to talk straight after school, some at dinner, and some just before bed. Being available as a parent to talk or debrief or just showing you are there for them can be a huge support for them. This is the year you don’t want to lose communication! With so much going on internally growing up in their body and brain, there is a lot going on externally too, and this is the time to learn creative ways as a parent to engage with them. Sometime cooking a yummy afternoon or dinner is enough to entice any teenager to hang around a little longer to chat. ☺
These guys and girls need encouragement. Writing a little note in their lunch box, tidying their room with a note on their pillow or other small gestures can show them you are there for them. Saying to them ‘I’m so proud of you!’ and ‘This is a big time of so many changes, which are both exciting and scary all at the same time, and you are doing so well in adapting to them all’ can go along way. One time in the first semester, my first-year-of-high-school daughter was feeling so overwhelmed, I cleaned her room for her and put a note of encouragement on her bed. It spoke volumes for her, and encouraged her in this time of adjustment.
One of the biggest changes from primary to high school is independence. You are expected at high school to know where to go, what books you need, what uniform you need to wear, how to catch public transport etc etc. Its hard to go from a primary school where the teacher takes responsibility for you, to a high school where YOU take responsibility for you! It can feel scary and lonely. BUT… this is a great time of empowerment! Resist the urge to do everything for them.
Help them to remember, NOT take over
Its ok in the first few weeks to remind them or help them out, but you really need to empower them to start thinking for themselves. If they are forgetting things, encourage them to do up their own personal checklist the night before. Things like ‘have I put my laptop and phone on charge?’ or ‘have I got my uniforms ready?’ ‘do I need to be at school early for anything tomorrow?’ There’s lots to remember and its important at this time to help them remember, NOT take over. On the other hand, it’s also important to let them know, as they learn independence, that they are not alone and you have their back.
Some kids look around at school and expect to be ‘best friends’ by the end of the first week! Whilst some people click instantly, some kids know its takes time to develop lasting friendships. Just because people ‘act like BFFs’ after meeting a week ago, doesn’t mean it will last. It’s hard to explain this to your young teenager, as they look around and think ‘Am I the only one who doesn’t have a new best friend?”. If your teenager is feeling alone or wondering these things, reassure them. One of the things I’ve always said to my kids is, ’If you wanna make a friend, be a friend.’ It’s one of the sure ways of making friends.
‘If you wanna make a friend, be a friend.’
5. Don’t take it out on them!
The change is not only big for them, its big for you too! Your new highschooler can go from being that fun, over-communicative pre-teen to a moody, hard to love teenager. Remember, just because they don’t act like they need you, doesn’t mean they don’t! They need you more than EVER. Communication between you and them is even more key to a successful high school transition. Research shows that teenagers around 14 and up express parent-child conflict as one of their greatest concerns, so now is the time to invest in this relationship – moody or not – to keep communication channels open. Having a once a week coffee/catch up is just the ingredient for this. Even if not much is said during this time, creating a culture of ‘opportunity to share’ will be worth it in the coming years.
Research shows that teenagers around 14 and up express parent-child conflict as one of their greatest concerns
I remember that first shock as a parent of a high school kid. I remember looking back, just 12 months later and thinking ‘wow! So much has changed between the end of primary school and the first year of high school.’ It was like I was holding on to my hat and going on for the ride. Being an engaged, attentive parent will help your child know he/she is not alone and has the back up they need. Empowerment, not taking over. Encouragement, not criticism.
Keep going parents, you can DO this! And the good news is that YOU are not alone in this journey either. We are all in it together.