Needless to say, the transition is one that can cause both children and parents a great deal of anxiety – usually for very different reasons. However, being prepared for the change and what is in store can go some way to easing your own concerns, as well as help you to give your children all the support, attention and nurture they need when dealing with a new school, new teachers, new subjects, rules and friends. We can’t promise it will stop the tears at the gate as you wave them off from an appropriate distance, but you can go home safe in the knowledge that they’re as prepared as can be.
1. Be considerate of their feelings
As such a significant moment in your child’s life, be sure not to shrug off any of their apprehensions, as all of their fears are valid. These could be smaller fears such as anxiety about the journey to school or making new friends, or could be bigger worries such as being bullied or failing to keep up in class. Reassure them that everybody has the same fears on their first day of school but be positive and enthusiastic about their new challenges. They may want to be able to stand on their own two feet, but you need to be there as the safety net when they fall back to you. Ask them what they are looking forward to, what they will miss about their old school and what their particular worries are. Establishing any issues early on can give you the time to talk through them or work on any strategies that could help put them at ease.
2. Dealing with your own feelings
Starting secondary school is likely to be a huge wrench for parents and the sudden changes that occur as your child starts to grow into their own, independent person can be difficult. One of the most common causes of shock for parents is how little contact they will have with the school. Your child may make friends you haven’t met, you probably won’t know much about their teachers and you may feel much more isolated and out of touch with other parents and carers. Teachers often recommend that parents familiarise themselves with the school through open days, induction events and the school website if you’re struggling with the lack of information.
Your child will quickly grow more independent in the first year of secondary school and so be prepared to adjust your relationship with your child as it changes and take each day as it comes. This new-found independence is a natural step towards becoming a young adult and doesn’t mean you are no longer important or influential in your child’s life- it just means they’re growing up!
3. Prepare before the first day
There are a number of practical things that parents should take into consideration before the first day of school. Shop for a school uniform with plenty of time so that you can make sure you have the right size and appropriate clothing for all weather – if it is particularly expensive, the school or local education authority might be able to help you with the cost. You may also need to invest in stationery and equipment such as a calculator, pencil case, pens , erasers, rulers, geometry set and a rucksack or bag. Note that a bag could rank as a particularly important item to children, who may see it as a way for them to express their individuality or personality. With coats, footwear or stationery, you may want to buy them cheap before you inevitably discover the items that are considered acceptable by their peers. Items such as sports kit are likely to be lost at some stage, so there is no harm having spares.
4. Help them to become more responsible
Help your child get ready the night before and try to establish a routine that will make mornings less stressful. An early start is likely to mean morning grumpiness, so encourage them to get their clothes laid out ready and bag packed, with any keys for bikes or lockers securely attached to their clothes or bag. Store all school related items (such as books) in one place to save early morning panics for lost equipment and make sure you both commit to marking any important dates for projects or events clearly on a calendar for them. Try to resist doing too much yourself as your child needs to learn how to manage their time efficiently. Putting a homework and activity schedule on the wall can be a visual reminder for both parents and children.
5. Practise the journey into school
For many children starting secondary school, it could be the first time they are making a journey on their own, and that can be a cause of anxiety. Try to ease their (and your) fears by doing at least one trial journey, going over the alternative means of transport should one method be disrupted. Practise will help build their confidence. Talk through how they could solve any transport problems should they need to use an alternative and point out safe destinations for them to go to if they are unable to get home.
If you have succumbed to giving your child a mobile phone, ensure you have emergency numbers, the number for the school and a taxi firm programmed in. Many parents also provide their child with emergency money that is separate from any other money. If your child has a friend or neighbour going to the same school, they could act as a travelling companion.
Have you got any advice for navigating your child’s first day at secondary school? Share your tips in the comments box below.