Moving from primary to secondary school, or high school, is a big transition. It can be a time full of fun, excitement and new experiences, but can also be challenging or worrying for some children. You can help by making sure your child is prepared and feels supported.
It’s common for kids to have some challenges with the transition to high school. One in three children say they found the transition difficult. These difficulties usually resolve during the first year.
Children often have mixed feelings about starting high school. They might be:
You might also worry about these issues, and about whether your child will have the confidence and skills to handle them.
These worries are all normal. Secondary school also means a move from the familiar to the unknown, and a whole new way of doing things.
Your child will need to meet new peers and make new friends, and establish or re-establish her position within a peer group.
Your child will need to adapt to new teaching and assessment styles, cope with a wide range of subjects, adjust to having different teachers in different classrooms, become more responsible for his own learning, manage a heavier study and homework load, and learn a new and more complex timetable.
Your child will have to adjust to a new school campus, find her way around, get to class on time with the right books and materials, and possibly cope with new transport arrangements.
All the issues above might be particularly challenging for some young people living in rural or remote communities. For example, they might need to manage lengthy travel times or move away from their family, friends and the local community if attending boarding school.
When children are making the move to high school, parents have the biggest influence on how smooth the transition is. Your child’s friends do influence how your child feels about the move, but your support has longer-lasting effects.
You can help to ease any worries your child has about starting secondary school by preparing your child in the months and weeks before term begins.
Here are some ideas for dealing with practical issues:
Here are some ideas to deal with mixed feelings and worries:
Here are some ideas to help with the practical side of the transition to high school:
These ideas might help with worries about getting to know people and making new friends at high school:
You could try these suggestions for handling emotional ups and downs:
Your child’s transition to secondary school is a big change for you too. Your relationship with your child’s primary school might be ending, and you’re likely to have a different sort of relationship with your child’s secondary school.
It’s OK for you to have mixed feelings about these changes.
Talking to other parents, particularly those who have gone through high school transition, often helps. It might ease your mind to know that many children find things a little hard at first but settle in during the year.
Also, other parents who are experienced at the school can often answer small questions and give you helpful tips about how things work at your child’s new school.
And don’t be surprised to find that your child doesn’t want you to be as visible at his secondary school as you might have been during the primary years. Remember that he’ll still need your support outside of school, and that it’s all part of the way he develops greater independence.
Signs your child might be struggling include:
If your child is having trouble, don’t wait for things to improve on their own.
Try to get your child talking about how he’s feeling, let him know that his feelings of worry and discomfort are normal, and see whether you can work out some strategies together. Also consider speaking with your child’s teacher, guidance counsellor or GP.
The transition to secondary school is sometimes more challenging for children with special needs. It’s important to ensure that your child – and your family – are adequately prepared for the change, and have access to appropriate information.
You might need extra time to plan your child’s transition to secondary school – even starting up to a year ahead. Student welfare services at your child’s primary and secondary schools will play an important role in ensuring your child’s needs are supported.
If you’d like additional support or have concerns, you can seek advice from your child’s teacher, school principal or learning support team. Also contact disability services in your state or territory.
By: Raising Children Network in collaboration with the Centre for Adolescent Health,
The Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne.
Published: 13 February, 2015