10 Concerns about Starting Secondary School Answered
In many ways, moving onto secondary school is an even bigger change than starting school for the first time. Not only is your child leaving the school they have grown up in, they are also getting their first real taste of independence and responsibility.
In this article, we’ll be looking at some of the common concerns parents have as their child takes the next step towards adulthood, and offering some practical advice to overcome them.
1. What can I expect in the first week?
Every child is different, so there is no typical way for a child to act when they start secondary school. Some may be reluctant to leave the familiar surroundings of their primary school, while others may be eager to get going at their new school. Right now it’s really important for your child to have a point of stability, so let them know that you are always there if they need you.
The change in routine can also take some getting used to. Helping your child get organised the night before with their uniform and bag will avoid any last minute panics in the morning, and this is a good practice to get into.
The first week or so will be very exhausting so avoid making plans outside of school for a bit while your child settles in. Don’t be surprised if they just want to come home and crash on the sofa either! Make sure they get enough sleep and eat properly too, so they have plenty of energy for the next day.
2. How can I make sure my child isn’t a victim of bullying/a bully?
Bullying is a huge issue in secondary school, with 43 per cent of young people surveyed in the UK saying they have been bullied, 50 per cent saying they have bullied another person. With the availability of social media and mobile phones it’s easy for children to hide bullying, whether they are the bully or the victim. Find out more about preventing cyber bullying here.
Appearance (such as weight or clothing) is the top reason for young people to be bullied. This is a sensitive subject for many people and can lead to children having a poor body image. It’s important to boost your child’s self-esteem by giving them positive comments (while avoiding negative ones), and opportunities to build their confidence (such as learning new skills). Showing your child that you are confident and happy with how you look, and not judging others on their appearance, will give them a positive role model to follow.
There is no way for you to protect your child every minute of every day, so instead you need to give them the tools to handle bullying. It is vital that they have a strong support network around them who they can confide in. You can keep the lines of communication open with your child by giving her opportunities to talk to you – asking them to help make dinner, doing family activities together, and making sure they know you are available to listen when they need you.
3. How can I help my child make friends at their new school?
It can be quite daunting moving from a small year group of about 20-30 familiar faces and childhood friends, to a crowd of 150-200 potential strangers. But as they say, a stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet.
Whether your child is setting out on their own or will be joined by their primary school friends, encouraging them to make the most of every opportunity to make new friends (such as going along to the induction day) will help them to really branch out. Leaving old friends behind isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it can give your child the chance to leave behind any old grudges too.
If your child is nervous, remind them that everyone is in the same boat; they are all in a new environment and looking to make new friends. Children might need to push past that barrier and put themselves out there, but it will be well worth it in the end.
4. How do I stop my child hanging out with the wrong crowd?
In primary school, you will have seen your child playing together with friends in the playground and at parties, and chatted to their parents. However, you are likely to be much less involved once your child reaches secondary school; at this point you may feel a little pushed out, but it’s all part of your child growing up and becoming independent.
This can be worrying because your child may be meeting up with friends who you have never met, and whose parents you don’t know. But they are growing up and need their freedom to make friends, and you will need to show that you trust them to make the right choices. As always, keeping the lines of communication open is important, as it gives you a chance to bring up any concerns you may have about new friends.
5. How can I make sure my child gets a healthy lunch?
It will be much harder to keep tabs on your child’s lunchtime habits in secondary school, and if they are sent out with money in their pocket, they may choose a slice of pizza over a salad. This is all part of your child becoming responsible for their own actions, so whether or not they choose what you’d have chosen for them, it’s not something you can really control.
There can also be concerns about whether children are eating enough, as body image can become very fragile at this age. Either way, it is important to encourage healthy eating by being a good role model and eating well yourself, while making sure your child gets a good, balanced evening meal.
6. How do I get my child to do their homework?
At this age your child will need to take more responsibility, and that includes doing their homework. If the school doesn’t provide a planner, it may be worth getting one to help them keep track.
While you can give a gentle nudge in the right direction and provide a quiet space to work, your child will still need to develop the self-motivation and discipline to get their work done. Otherwise, they will be reaching their GCSE’s and still relying on you to manage work for them. It’s important they learn the consequences now, when less is at stake, and these skills will be key for higher education and working.
It’s helpful to encourage your child when you do see them getting on with homework off their own back, but try not to nag too much if they aren’t doing it, as that’s likely to push them further from it.
7. I’m worried my child might not be safe walking to and from school on their own.
Practising the school commute before term starts will help build your child’s confidence in walking alone and knowing the route. It may be worth going with them the first time to plan the safest route, so you feel comfortable knowing where they will be walking. Letting your child out on their own, e.g. to go to the local shops, will also give them more experience being out on their own.
You might want to talk through scenarios as well, such as missing the bus, and ask what your child would do if that happened. Encourage them to keep items, like mobile phones, out of plain sight too.
8. My child is very happy at primary school; will they still be happy when they start secondary?
Moving onto a new school is always difficult, especially in the first few weeks when they are likely to miss the familiar routines, favourite teachers, and friends who have gone off to different schools. But there are lots of exciting new opportunities at secondary school, and they will settle in before you know it.
9. Will my child be able to cope with the pressure to do well at school?
It’s so essential for your child to understand the importance of working to their own potential, without feeling so pressured that they burst. Parents play a key role in this, as children will often try to live up to what they believe their parent’s expectations to be – if aspirations are unrealistic, children may feel like they have failed.
Whether your child is a high achiever or doesn’t really get on at school, or anywhere in between, it’s vital that you focus on what they can do instead of what they can’t. Rather than adding to the pressure to succeed, build your child’s self-esteem by offering praise when they have done well, and avoiding criticism when they haven’t quite reached the level you thought they should.
It may help to set SMART goals (specific, measurable, agreed-upon, realistic, time-based) to break the bigger, more intimidating tasks into something more achievable. For example, rather than your child wanting to move up a set in maths, you might agree on a SMART goal for them to spend 30 minutes a day doing their maths homework.
10. My oldest child had trouble when she started secondary school, and I’m worried my younger child will too.
Some children will fly at secondary school, while others may find it more difficult. Avoid assuming that your second child will follow in the footsteps of their older sibling, and regardless of how you think your child will get along, try to prepare them as best you can.
It can be so hard to let go, but this is a time when your child needs to be allowed to grow up with you by their side to support them if necessary. If you’re struggling, our experts suggest watching Finding Nemo (maybe with a box of tissues handy).
Categorised in: parenting advice
This post was written by Anna Taylor