As children transition from one school to another, especially to a higher level, there are some things we can do to help reduce any anxiety in the process. The transition from primary school to secondary school/junior high usually coincides with the transition from tween to teen and the changes in hormones associated with puberty etc that accompany that, making this transition even more interesting for the whole family.
If you don’t yet have teenagers, I encourage you to still read this article as there are several strategies written here that are helpful to implement in your family at a younger age. This will help your child become more resilient.
In Australia at the moment, there are still several more months to go before the end of the school year. I am addressing this topic now as it gives you, the parent, time to implement some changes in preparation that will benefit your whole family. A key to this whole process is in the preparation.
- Exercise regularly. Research demonstrates that 12-14 year old girls who exercise regularly at a high intensity have a higher self-esteem, cope with stress more effectively and have a greater long term healthy body image. Plus the benefits of exercise in aiding stress reduction are fantastic. Help your child find an exercise program or sport that they love.
- Eating healthy. Provide nutritious snacks and meals. Try and be home when they arrive home from school and provide a healthy nutritious snack where they can linger around the kitchen and chat. If you are able to be present when your teenager arrives home from school, provide a snack and sit near them, then they are more likely to engage with you and share the highlights and lowlights of their day.
- Chat about which sport and extra curricular activity they will be involved in and about how important physical exercise is.
- Be prepared. This includes equipment, books, stationary, uniform, lunch, transport. Try the route that your teenager will take on the mode of transport they are using. If trying a bus for the first time, go with them the first time and then get them to try it alone without you before the first day of school.
- Go to the new school with your teenager before the first day and walk around the school buildings. Note the signs and the different buildings, the grounds etc. This gives your teenager a good feeling that they understand where certain buildings are and they are become more familiar with the place.
- Have a wall planner eg on the fridge, of what equipment eg sports gear is needed on which day of the week.
- If there is a school orientation, do whatever you can to help your teenager be there to participate.
- Discuss emergency and safety issues with your teenager and plan what to do in certain situations. Forewarned is forearmed and so much easier to cope with if you have a predetermined action plan.
- Work out with your teenager the before and after school routine.
- Help them set up a specific study area with table, chair etc where they can comfortably study and do homework.
- Have ample supplies for breakfast available and encourage your teenager to have breakfast each day.
- Take your teenager shopping for an alarm clock or if they are using their digital device, make sure they are familiar with using it before school starts. Chat about an appropriate time to wake up.
- Agree on a suitable bed time for your teenager so that they can get enough sleep.
3. Organisational skills
- Time management skills. This is an essential life management skill. Help them learn how to pace themselves to get things achieved and how to plan ahead. Have them print off an evening time planner in 15 minute segments so that they can start to plan their homework time and play time. Help them inprint into their life the principle of work before play.
- Packing their bag – do not do it for your teenager. Do make sure that they have access to everything they need and it will fit in.
- Help your teen make up a list for homework schedule/study and a weekly list of what they need to take each day and any special equipment on which day.
- Help them get into the habit of writing ‘to do’ lists. The earlier in life you help your child start this, the more organised it can help them become.
4. Limit changes all at once
- Try not to have too many changes at once. If you are shifting to the other side of the country etc and starting at a new school, you can’t do much about all the changes coinciding at the one time. But if you can manage to stagger changes, then do, even with mum or dad starting a new job etc.
- The Youth Ministry at our church and numerous others is now inviting year 6 children to join the youth group in the last term of grade 6 before they go to Secondary School. This is fantastic as it gives the grade 6’s an opportunity to try out something new before they get to Secondary School. Plus it will not be another new circumstance when they finally start year 7. They will be totally familiar with the Youth Group and hopefully have something to look forward to. Partner with your church in this and do all you can to get your teenager to Youth Group.
- Work at keeping family stability a priority.
5. Help develop resilience
- Hopefully this has already started when your teen was a lot younger so that it is second nature to them now. If not, start today.
- If your teen forgets their lunch, perhaps if it is the first day, they can be excused. If after that, bad luck – do not deliver it to them. Let them learn by consequence.
- Help your teenager increase their self reliance and interdependence.
- Talk about conflict scenarios and brainstorm how to manage conflict and differences of opinion.
- Chat over a meal about the definition of failure. What is your family’s value in relation to failure. (Our family believes that failure is not having a go in the first place. If we try something and it doesn’t work out, then we haven’t failed.)
- Help your teen to push through and try again and not give up easily. If something requires hard work, coach them on keeping going and trying again.
- Help your teenager become great at something but also major on character over performance or skill.
- Have your teenager contribute with the family chores around the home and cook a main meal at least once per week.
- Let your teenager make their lunch everyday.
6. Be the parent
- You are the adult and parent in this situation and your role is to monitor their stress levels, help them develop their organisational skills and prepare them for adulthood.
- Have strict guidelines on social media and digital access in their bedroom and time limits at night.
- Read the school newsletter. If you are not receiving one, investigate how to receive it best. Help your teen be prepared for upcoming events.
- Attend any parent information sessions at the school.
- Have a family calendar of who’s doing what where etc in the kitchen or somewhere everyone can access it.
- Keep an abundant supply of school snacks and healthy food available.
- Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’.
- Don’t try to be your teenager’s friend. First, you are the parent. Keep your parenting issues between your spouse and yourself and don’t involve your teenager. Try and keep the family stable during these times of transition.
- Watch your attitude and remain positive. Look at what you say and how you frame your words – are they positive? Are you looking forward to the teenage years? Please do not speak negatively about your teenager.
- Tell your teenager that you love them. Hug them. Express physical touch appropriately.
- Be the first person to talk to them about their sexuality and the changes they will experience (if not already) as they will then weigh what friends say up against what you have said.
- Be available and not distracted at key times when your teenager is home so that they can open up about themselves, their thoughts and feelings. If trying to get a conversation going, it is helpful to start with the ‘no thought’ questions of ‘how was your lunch?’, ‘what did you do at lunchtime?’ etc. Gradually deepen the questions to what they felt or ‘what happened when ….?’, ‘how do you feel about….?’.
- Be available to talk at times when they want to talk and when they gravitate to you and just hang around you. Drop what you are doing and focus on them.
- Chat with them about their emotions, their feelings etc. With transitions in life, emotions can easily get tangled up and it is common to experience mixed emotions. Also, hormones can cause emotions to be heightened so helping them be aware of certain times of the month etc and how to help stabilise their emotions.
- Chat about friendships, loneliness, how to make friends etc.
- Chat about managing change and some practical pointers.
- Help your teenager to be able to express their concerns with you and also help them to be able to focus on things they are grateful for.
- Try to have as many evening meals as possible as a family sitting around the table together. Chat about what’s happened during the day eg highlight and lowlight of the day.
- Help your teenager learn to be grateful. Try to encourage every family member to express daily three things they are grateful for. People who are grateful experience more joy.
8. Help your teenager grow closer to God.
- Use this time to help your teenager turn to God when issues arise.
- Try and help your teenager have a consistent daily time of prayer and Bible Reading and communication with God at an earlier age, thus this will be automatic at this age. If this is not in place, over the holidays before school starts, try and model and get your teenager to join in a daily time with God – Bible reading, soaking, prayer, journaling, etc
- Help your teenager look to God for their identity – who God says they are. Who they are in God’s eyes. Help scorch this on to their soul so that they believe it in their deep places and will not look to who others say they are. Help your teenager make a poster for their bedroom wall, or put it behind the toilet wall, on who God thinks they are.
- Pray for your teenager and pray with your teenager. Pray with them before they leave the house each day. Pray with them before they go to bed.
- Craft a blessing that you can declare over them each night that incorporates the things you want to see them blessed in.
9. Have fun
- Encourage laughter, goofiness, and just plain fun in your family. Help your home be a welcoming and safe place.
- Spontaneously do fun stuff (even if you need to plan it in so that it becomes a ‘spontaneous’ activity.
- Celebrate the first day of the new school and the end of the first week. Cook their favourite meal. Have every family member share the high’s and the low’s of their week. Play a favourite game or do a favourite activity together.
- Mark milestones in their life.