Starting high school is a significant time of transition and can be challenging for a number of reasons. High school brings with it emotional, social and academic challenges. Many young people have mixed feelings about starting high school. Your child may feel excited, nervous, confused, and confident. While high school signals that your child is becoming older and more independent, there are still many ways you can support their development.
Recognise the reasons why high school can be challenging
To support your child, you need to be conscious of what they are going through. Starting high school can be difficult for the following reasons:
- Social changes
- Your child must enter a new social environment – one that is forming and shifting
- New school system, new teachers, new community
- Identity concerns
- Your child is starting their transition from child to adolescent, and this involves a shifting view of themselves. Puberty occurs. New experiences and friendship groups may change their sense of self. Increasing focus on peers may occur.
- Academic challenges
- Increased schoolwork and complexity.
- Novel classes that may be interesting and/or overwhelming
- Alternative types of assessment or learning methods may occur
- Organisational challenges
- High school requires more executive functioning skills than primary school – changing rooms, increased information.
Normalise and validate emotions
If your child is feeling apprehensive about starting high school, then one simple way to support them is simply to listen to these feelings and let them know it is ok to feel this way. Listening sounds simple but it can be difficult to hear our child’s distress without trying to problem solve or improve their mood immediately.
Whilst problem solving and cheering them up may be helpful, spending the time hearing the emotion first and sitting with feelings can be powerful. By listening to your child and accepting how they are feeling you are communicating that their emotions and experiences are important.
Without dismissing their experience, you can help them realise that others also have these feelings. You might do this by letting them know that mixed feelings about high school are common and that taking time to settle in is to be expected.
Assist with coping strategies
Another way you can help your child in their journey to high school is to give them some basic tools for coping. Some simple strategies you might remind them to engage in are:
- Take deep breaths to calm down
- Be mindful – focus on what’s going on right now
- Helpful thoughts
- Asking for help
- Time with friends
- Talking about emotions
- Problem solving
- Self-compassion – remind self that it’s difficult to feel this way
- Accept the emotion. Recognise it will pass
Encourage flexible thinking
The high school environment is a change and may seem overwhelming for some students. It is not just the facts that can make us feel stressed – but also our thoughts. If you notice that your child voices unhelpful thinking about high school, then help them challenge these thoughts.
You can do this by asking your child if the thought seems true and helpful, and then prompting them to think of healthier thought patterns. High school involves new experiences – different subjects, new challenges, different social opportunities. Encourage your child to be open to experiences and not to make assumptions on what or who they will and won’t like.
Encourage healthy habits
With the increased organisational demands of high school, healthy habits are especially important. You can help your child by:
- Assisting them to eat a healthy diet
- Setting boundaries around bedtime
- Encouraging healthy school-life balance
- Scaffolding time-management and encouraging your child to follow school suggestions on staying organised (such as keeping a well-maintained diary).
Be aware of signs your child is not coping with the transition
Some stress around starting high school does not mean your child is coping poorly, but the following signs may indicate they are struggling:
- Negativity around school and/or school refusal
- Not wanting to talk about school at all or saying things are ‘fine’ but appearing distressed
- Negative self-talk
- Difficulty sleeping, changes in appetite or self-care
- Not engaging in enjoyable activities or not appearing to be themselves
- Verbalising stress around academic pressures (or evidence of this e.g., reports from teachers, poor grades).
If your child is showing these signs then supportive strategies and communication from you may help, as well as talking with the school. Schools may be able to provide flexibility and tailored help if your child is finding the transition difficult. Engaging in psychological therapy may also benefit your child. Check out our transition to high school services. Our clinicians can also provide one-on-one support.
In summary, transitioning to high school can be a challenging time for young people. Parents can provide emotional and practical support to help ease this transition. Whether listening, problem-solving, prompting helpful thoughts or assisting with organisation, you can help your child have the best start to the year. Call us on (07) 3857 0074 if interested in individual support for your child, or email firstname.lastname@example.org to register interest in our transitioning to high school group services.