Making the move from primary to secondary school can be tricky, both for children and parents. There is a myriad of new challenges and experiences ahead- it’s how they are dealt with that will determine how successful a transition will be.
Cast your mind back (all those years ago!) to your first day at secondary school. Were you nervous about getting lost? Afraid of coming across the bigger children? Worried about making friends or not fitting in? Put yourself in your child’s shoes and don’t dismiss any of their worries. Talk to them, listen to their concerns and think how you might be able to help. It’s a very simple tip, but one that a lot of parents sometimes forget amidst all the mayhem of a new school.
For the first couple of weeks, cut your child some slack. There will be teething problems and they’ll need to get used to a new system with increased levels of responsibility. Adapting to such different structures means, in all likelihood, they will be exhausted come the end day. Try and be as understanding as possible (this can be enormously difficult!) and think about cutting back on after-school clubs and weekend activities at the beginning of term. It’s vital though that you help them with getting into a routine. Establish a structured homework pattern, ensure they are sleeping and eating well and that they have a hassle-free morning routine.
Before school starts, it’s essential that your child has the correct uniform, stationery and books. Key items include: calculator, rubber, pencil, pens, ruler, sharpener, a good-sized rucksack and PE-bag. Make sure your child is familiar with things like lockers, breaktimes, term dates, uniform guidelines, after-school activities. It’s also important that they are comfortable with getting to and from school. If they are walking to school, are there friends they can go with? If they’re getting public transport, what time do they need to get up and where do they need to go? If you’re driving them, what time will you need to leave (make sure you leave enough time for traffic on the first day!).
Help your child with their organisation. This can be very difficult for some children, so it’s important to put some structures in place to support them. Making a checklist of equipment and books needed, displaying copies of the timetable in a prominent place and making sure they get their bags packed the night before, are great tricks to help children get themselves organised.
Secondary school can be very daunting and difficult at times. It’s vital that children’s confidence and self-esteem is nurtured throughout these moments. Of course, parents naturally praise, encourage and give affection to their children throughout childhood, but it’s often throughout the troubled adolescent years when children feel most alone and bewildered with the world. Once they’ve settled in, encourage them to make use of all the wonderful new opportunities they will have at secondary school and find out about all the amazing activities on offer outside of school.
Spend time with your children in the evening. Even if it’s only for a short while, it’s so important to ask them about their day and offer your services to help them with any tricky assignments (don’t complete these for them!). Be a shoulder to cry on and a listening ear. Remind them that we all encounter these challenging moments in our lives and it’s about how we come through them that makes us as people. Share with them tough moments from your own school days and how you dealt with things.
Friendships and Bullying
Children often fall in and out of favour with different friendship groups during their time at secondary school. Girls in particular can be extremely fickle and cliquey, so assure your child there is nothing wrong with them if they feel excluded from the “cool crowd”. Fall-outs happen and are often just part of human social behaviour. However, fall-outs and “banter” can sometimes go beyond what is normal and acceptable. There is a huge difference between playground disputes and a lingering, consistent targeting of a victim. So many people and families have been scarred by bullying, and whilst it’s important not to overact, it’s also crucial that parents recognise the signs of when it may be taking place:
· Your child suddenly appears to go off school. They are unwilling to go into school and complain of “feeling ill”.
· They seem withdrawn, anxious and stressed and “clam-up” as soon as their behaviour is commented on.
· They have nightmares, panic attacks or even wet the bed.
· Any interest they had in after-school clubs or hanging out with friends appears to dry up.
· Clothes, belonging or lunch money goes missing.
· They come home with physical makings.
If you believe there may be a problem, first of all talk to your child. Listen to them and explain you aren’t angry with them. Take everything they say seriously and remain calm. Don’t make any promises to them that you won’t contact the school, should you feel necessary. If you end up contacting the school, it’s likely you’ll be put in touch with your child’s Form Tutor or Head of Year. During the meeting, make sure you have a clear outline of what exactly has been going on- sometimes a log of any incidents can be useful, along with evidence of lost items or physical harm. After the meeting, closely monitor how the school deals with things. Should you not see a change or are dissatisfied with the course of action taken, raise any concerns with the Headteacher or Board of Governors. Keep your child updated with what is happening and make sure you keep talking to them and listening to their concerns.
There are so many things for your child to look forward to at secondary school- encourage them to make the most of their time and to take all the incredible opportunities that come their way. Remind them that for many people, their school days were the happiest of their lives!