Six tips for a smoother start to secondary school

By Katrina Rozga, MC (Psych)

The move from primary to secondary school is a big step in a child’s emotional and social development, as well as their academic progress. The addition of technology and social media, as well as higher academic expectations and competition, have made the jump from lower school to upper school a bigger leap than ever before.

It is an overwhelming and exhilarating time. School will include more freedom, choice of classes, variety of teachers and a more complicated schedule. Meanwhile, peer relationships will take on a larger and more important role in their lives, and some will feel the first blush of romance. Kids may also find themselves at odds with their parents, seeking their acceptance and comfort while wanting independence.

To top it all off, it will all happen in face of the physical changes that come with puberty, which brings its own mixture of pride, embarrassment and anxiety.

Help your children navigate the big changes that come with the primary-to-secondary jump with these tips and activities:

1. Do a trial run
Talk about what the first day at school might look like, and make some choices in advance of the big day. This might include deciding on what to wear, what time to get up and what to eat for breakfast. Take a trip to school on the expected route to see how long it may take. If the school offers tours or open days, go and find out which doors to enter, and what hallways and classrooms will be part your child’s daily life. Do all of these ahead of time so your child has a fewer unknowns on their first day.

2. Show them how to plan
In secondary school, students can have say in course selection and shaping their own academic schedule. This freedom can be exciting but can equally lead to failure and demotivation for students don’t know how to manage their time and work. Show your teen how to set up a schedule for homework and assignments, working on time management and planning with a desk calendar, school journal or other helpful tools.

3. Change your role
While parents will want to remain involved in their child’s academic life, it is a good time to start giving your teen a little more freedom and responsibility. This is the time to let them work out some of their own challenges instead of immediately jumping to their aid. Encourage and support them in finding their own solutions. This doesn’t mean stepping entirely away from your child’s life, rather, it can mean shifting to having dinner table conversations about academic and peer issues rather than rushing to the school to find and fix their problems.

4. Give them the choice
When it comes to selecting classes, after school activities, or even how to arrange their schedule, let your child learn to take responsibility. Encourage them to choose classes based on what they want to do in the future so they can think through their long term goals and how to reach them. Give them some options to pursue things they are passionate about so they have balance in their lives, and help them learn time management by letting them arrange their schedule. These exercises in independence will help build your child’s intrinsic motivation and self-reliance, both key qualities for a successful adult.

5. Don't forget social learning
Parents may think that the most important learning their child will do in secondary school is academic, but social and emotional learning shouldn’t be overlooked. Peer relationships, especially those in high school, aid in the development of social responsibility, cooperation, compromise, negotiation skills as well as empathy and emotional control. These skills will prove imperative in navigating the world and need to be encouraged and fostered. Peer interactions will be difficult for your teen at times, so make sure to remain involved and keep communication lines open to give your teen a safe place to share and look for advice.

6. Yes, talk about puberty
Puberty can be one of the most awkward stages in life, but if your child knows what to expect and how to deal with it, it can make for an easier transition. Talk about it before it starts, let your child ask questions and encourage healthy living to help with any difficult changes such as acne or moodiness. Most importantly, continue to help your child develop and maintain positive self-esteem. Your child’s view of themselves will be challenged during these years and they will need their parent or guardian as source of encouragement and support.

Is your child anxious about starting secondary school? The BFDC offers school readiness workshops, as well as one-on-one counseling for kids who would benefit from a little extra support and preparation. Contact us for more details.