The Next Big Step

The Next Big Step

How to help your kids make the transition to secondary school

Many parents will find it hard to believe that the small little baby they brought home from the hospital, will in September will be going into the first year of secondary school. They went from making Valentine cards for Mommy to picking subjects for state exams. In this article, I will look at what practical steps parents and young people can take as they begin their voyage into secondary education. These practical steps will allow you to reduce your newly 1st years stress and anxiety as well as your own.

It’s ok for parents to be nervous too!

First, if you’re a parent it’s completely understandable to be nervous! You’ve probably stressed over which subjects to pick, where to get the books, which school to choose and now your child is about to start school. Well, it is completely natural that you would feel stressed and anxious, but the most important thing is that you do is not transmit this anxiety and stress to your child. They are already leaving behind their school and classmates and now are moving to a large school with multiple teachers, subjects and they do not need your added stress. Much of our anxiety in life is often sourced in the fact that we are facing a new scenario, we as parents can reduce the young person’s anxiety a great deal by making what is uncertain certain and what is unfamiliar familiar.

A simple task might be to read through their new timetable with them to help them break it down. Perhaps look at the order of the day, what time their breaks are and what time they start and finish. This will help them feel familiar and comfortable and it will be far less stressful.

To facilitate a smooth transition to secondary school it’s important if they have an open day or if they have been given a young adult leader in the school to liaise with, that they ask questions regularly. We can speed up the learning process and settle in by eliminating worries and fears that buildup connected to unanswered questions.

Knowledge is Power

Some of the most common questions for teachers are from students who are worried about what happens if I’m ill? How do I go home? How can I contact my parents? Who do I speak to if I need to leave the school building?  In French savoir cest pouvouir which translates to knowledge is power. The more information and knowledge they can gain in advance of going to the school the more powerful they will feel. If you have friends or family who’ve been to the school, one really good idea is to talk to them about their memories and what advice they would give someone going in and starting off. Much of this advice will not be found on the school glossy pamphlets or in the school Journal but common sense and experience is invaluable in situations like this. Perhaps you as a parent could talk to other parents. One person who is a great source of information for parents is the school secretary who is often a fountain of knowledge in most schools.

Some schools put in place a mentor system which will give a tour of the school to the young students or check-in and periodically to see what their progress is. As you move closer to the time, they will begin in secondary school it’s important that you provide reassurance. Explain to your child that the feeling of anxiousness is not necessarily negative that it’s excitement about a new period of their life a period which will lead them into being an adult and that all of the uncertainty and all of the unanswered questions will have pretty much evaporated by the end of the first school week. As a parent, we need to set a positive mindset for young people. You should not forget that the start could quite possibly influence how they continue so if we set them up with knowledge, information, experience and reassurance of a positive outcome at the start that this can become the norm in their school life. Perhaps you might tell them of your own experiences of your first week.

Organize, organize organize!

Lack of efficiency and organization skills are common in the first years in secondary school. A  simple exercise you can take part in with your teenager is using the timetable .Show them how to perform a checklist for each book and subject that they will have the next day what putting books into their bag ensure that the copy material and books they need for the first subject are at the front of their bag so that they can quite simply move from front to back as the day progresses and easily find the next textbook that they need. Most first years will use clear plastic envelopes to put copies books workbooks for a particular subject together when these are stored in their locker and when they go to their timetable perhaps after a lunch break or morning break they can quickly retrieve all of the correct books in one go put them in their bags and swiftly moved to the next class.

While this might seem like a simple exercise for many first years surrounded by hundreds of their classmates’ hustle-bustle noise and distraction this can be overwhelming and very difficult. After you’ve spent all this money and equipped them with books sporting equipment bags it’s really important that you label everything with black permanent markers or with name tags one thing is certain these name tags will be read by the secretary or by the games master at lost and found at some stage during the school year and hopefully will find their way back to you or your son or daughter.

Regretfully some parents are not completely honest when communicating with schools in application forms. If your son or daughter has a health difficulty, visual impairment, hearing difficulty or learning needs it’s vitally important that you communicate this clearly to the school’s counsellor or principle. If, for example, your child had a speech impediment and was uncomfortable reading in class it’s important that you would reach out to the class tutor or to the class teachers at the very start of the year to avoid any difficulties for your child.

As an adult, we all know arriving in a new workplace can be daunting, surrounded by new environments, new procedures, new people encouraging your young person to ask as many questions as possible. Students can always ask a class tutor questions. The more questions we ask the less of a learning curve we have and the more empowered the student will be in the school.

Routine is Key

So, they’ve survived their first day and you’ve had a quiet weep in the car park or at home what do you do when they get in the car that first evening to return home? Routines are excellent for teenagers start with asking them how their day went, don’t be tempted to jump in and offer advice every second sentence let them explain what they’ve experienced let them voice any fears or unhappiness provide positive encouragement and reinforcement that they’re doing great and the things will get better .however if after a number of weeks their anxiety and fear has not reduced and that some issues are reappearing frequently it would be a really good idea to reach out to the class tutor your head get some advice get some information on how you can improve the situation. We all want our children to be safe and happy. The purpose of secondary school is not just to achieve 600 hundred points in the Leaving cert but to become young people who are independent, resilient and able to cope with the difficulties that life will throw at them.

In this respect, your first tactic when they come across the difficulty should be to encourage them to find a solution themselves, find a way out of their problem of course as their parents and someone who loves them will be that safety net to catch them in the event that they need intervention or help. The students I see who struggled to settle into first year very often have parents who themselves had a negative experience of secondary school and are now transferring their anxiety and panic to the young person. It’s vitally important as they begin this journey in secondary school that you give them the space and time to find their own way. They will certainly make mistakes. They will certainly get things wrong, but this is real learning. An educated person needs to have a skill set that allows them to self-evaluate, identify problems, figure solutions and have the bravery to take actions to improve their situation.

It’s important that you remember that this young person is going into secondary school and they will have peer pressure from other teenagers therefore under no circumstances walk them to the door of the school this is not primary school. If you need to take photographs of them in their new school uniforms to begin secondary school, probably the time to do this is when they’re trying on the uniform at home a few days before they leave to see if it fits; this will be less stressful for all involved.

Get involved!

Get your young person involved in as many clubs and societies as possible when they start in secondary school. I always say to parents if you want your son or daughter to fit in then they’ve got to get in. Becoming involved means you meet new friends and have new journeys and adventures together. But this will not happen if the young person stands back and does not become involved. Encourage them to be bold or brave in terms of their choices I can clearly remember my own parents pushing me into the choir telling me I had to go to the auditions and take part even though I dreaded the thought of singing in public .throughout all of my time in secondary school my time spent in the choir and on school trips are some of my best memories. Each of our young people have different talents and interests and as they journey through second-level education these should be encouraged that should develop and be allowed to flourish, very often the student will meet people of similar personalities and backgrounds in the hobbies that they’re interested in this really facilitates a smooth transition into secondary school.

Remember the first weeks in school can be greatly shaped by what happens at home. Try to establish a clear routine of what time you expect to wash, have breakfast, what time to leave the house, when to wash dirty school uniforms etc. There is nothing worse to start a young person’s day off in school than the stress of running around the house looking for items that they should have organized the night before.

If they used technology in their school a tablet or a phone this must be in a public area somewhere in the house where you can clearly see the screen see what they’re doing it’s not that we don’t trust our young people but it’s very easy for them to drift into social media like Tik tok, Instagram and Snapchat and lose their focus in their ability to study. At study skills Ireland I meet a wide variety of students who were striving for the highest possible points in the leaving cert. Both the students and the parents realized that education is the key to their success in Ireland. However, many parents and students are increasingly aware the young people do not have the organization skills and the study skills to maximize their potential. I think it’s sad that we let them travel through education hoping that they will magically find the skills they require to be successful. Many students can find it frustrating when they’re told by a teacher that this chapter is very important tonight. We wish you to go home and study it in detail. However, missing from this conversation is what’s the most efficient way, what’s the most interesting way of studying that best suits your personality.

In relationships and dealings with the young person for the first couple of weeks it’s important that we as parents practice tolerance and kindness remember they would be carrying a large bag of books trying to remember 30 new classmates 9 or 10 new teachers school timetable PE outside of school societies it can be overwhelming physically and mentally exhausting, so make sure that they’re getting correct nutrition make sure that they’re getting adequate sleep and when weekends or Holidays come it’s vitally important that they get time to recharge their batteries particularly as an adolescence that their body is already under pressure and growing rapidly.

While having older children have gone through the system it gives you confidence and understanding of what lies ahead but at no point should you ever compare your children to each other. while they might attempt to attend the same school and the same teachers as unique individuals their experience would be different and what they would produce and achieve would also be different.

In conclusion, the number one thing that a parent can do is be reassuring, loving and supportive of the young person as they take this giant step forward in their education.  I speak to many parent groups around the country each year and frequently mentor parents and students with our online study skills courses. it is important that you know there is no guaranteed recipe for success there is no magic potion. I can tell you however that the distance or passing of time from when they first walk out your front door dressed in their first-year uniform to you sitting at their graduation mass in 6th year is a very short period of time. I can remember my own wife saying how traumatic it was to see the children begin second level education but now as they finished third level education, I realized the stress of being a parent is a fun-filled yet life long journey.

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