Parent’s Guide to Starting High School

7 min read
Parent’s Guide to Starting High School

They’ve been at primary school for six years, so your almost-teenager should have an easy transition to high school, right? Right???

Not always.

Even those going to a prep-Year 12 school can be nervous about the change. They will, after all, be going from being the biggest fish in the pond of primary school to becoming the small fry of high school.

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This change can affect kids in different ways. While some are pumped at the chance to meet and make new friends and to have a bit more control over some of the subjects they study, the thought of a new environment can make others nervous.

Of course, all of the above is normal.

Remember, your child may be growing up, but you still have a big influence in their lives, so you can be a big driver in determining how smooth their transition is, so here are some tips to help you guide your child through the process

Visit the new school

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Many primary schools run high school transition and orientation programs in the last term of primary school. If possible, make sure your child is signed up for these programs and is at school on the days they’re happening.

If your primary school doesn’t run a transition program, find out what transition services and supports your child’s new high school offers.

The New Stress of Getting around

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Your family will have to adjust to a new school campus and your child will have the added challenge of finding their way around to different classrooms and juggling a number of text books each day.  Their anxiety levels will be high.

If the high school is a bit further away from home than what you are used to and your child will have to ride a new route on their bike or catch different buses, it’s a great idea to travel these journeys with them a few times so they are comfortable doing it on their own.  Or if you can, drop them off and pick them up for the first few weeks so they only have the stress of getting to know the school before handling transport as well.

So you aren’t climbing onto the school bus with them, and potentially embarrassing them in front of their new peers, it’s a good idea to do this before the first day of term!

HINT:  Don’t just tell your child ‘It will all be okay’ if they voice their fears.  Take the time to listen to them and reassure them that everyone also has these fears. They will need you more than ever during times of stress as they learn to become an adult.

Prepare them for a change in workload

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There is no doubt the homework and assessment requirements will kick up a notch, so you might need to help your young person adapt to this over the first few weeks, maybe longer.  Have a nice quiet space that is their own to study in (if you can!).  Try and your child into the routine of homework early so as they progress through high-school, so it doesn’t become an issue….. (sorry…)

HINT:  Tell your child that they can speak up if they need help, and the earlier they do this, the better.  Even though you might not understand the homework, check in with them to see how they are going.  If your child falls behind, see if you can employ an older child to help out, or even seek a tutor.

Practical ways to help

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  • Try to arrange for a parent, grandparent or other close adult to be home before and after school for the first few weeks of transition.
  • Find out the name of the teacher in your child’s home group and make time to meet them and ask questions before term starts.
  • Try to make your home as comfortable for study time as possible. For example, make sure your child has a quiet place to study, away from distractions such as the TV or a mobile phone. When they need to use the internet, make sure you keep an eye on the websites they are using.
  • Involve your child in decision-making, even if it is simple things like uniform decisions and subject choices.
  • Try to make sure your child eats well, gets plenty of physical activity and gets plenty of sleep. The change to secondary school is likely to make your child more tired at first

HINT:  Inclusion is a great way for your child to transition from primary to high school.  Check newsletters for new clubs or sports teams and get them involved!


Ways to Help with Feelings and Worries

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  • Talk with your child about what they are most looking forward to and if they have any worries and really listen to what they say.
  • If there are feelings of negativity, try to cox them around to a positive outlook by highlighting things like the new opportunities they will have and the other programs, like sports and drama productions, that will be special to that school they will now have access to.
  • This can be a tricky one to navigate, but also talk to them about friendship worries. If they are worried about being separated from primary school friends, you might suggest ways they can keep in touch with them while making new friends at high school.
  • Find out whether there’s a buddy system at your child’s new school and encourage your child to be involved in it.
  • Be prepared for early ups and downs because any adjustment takes time. But if things don’t stabilise after the first six weeks, talk to your child’s home-room teacher.
  • Remind your child that it’s normal to feel nervous about starting something new.

For the Parents

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You can also feel some anxiety about your child moving into high school, but talking to other parents who have already gone through the transition can help to put your mind at ease.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions of friends and teachers at the school so you know what to expect.

Oh, and don’t be surprised to find that your child doesn’t want you to be as visible at school as you might have been during the primary years. But despite this, they still need your support outside of school!

Children with special needs

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The transition to secondary school is sometimes more challenging for children with special needs. It’s important to ensure that your child and your family are adequately prepared for the change, and have access to appropriate information.

You might need extra time to plan your child’s transition, even starting up to a year ahead.

Student welfare services at your child’s primary and secondary schools will play an important role in ensuring your child’s needs are supported, so don’t be afraid to approach them with any questions you may have.

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Roxanne McCarty-O'kane

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