‘How are you feeling about starting high school?’: how to reduce back-to-school anxiety


Sydney 2000

A little while ago, my oldest child started primary school.

As we’d visited the uniform shop, the excitement radiated from her.

Well, if I’m being completely truthful, the excitement only started radiating after the initial disappointment had worn off.

Turned out she’d misheard me and had thought we were heading to the unicorn shop. She couldn’t wait to meet her teacher, to make new friends and to learn to read.

Despite a little trepidation about just how “big” big school was, she assured me that she felt mostly “nerve-cited,” which she explained was the feeling you get when you’re both nervous and excited at the same time.

You know the crazy part though? Turns out a little while was, in fact, somehow, seven years ago.

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I honestly don’t recall entering the time-speeding-up-machine, but I must have, because as I write this, my eldest daughter is actually about to start high school.

And funnily enough, it feels like we’ve come full circle as she once again prepares to head off to “big” school.

Yet despite it being a similarly big transition for our kids, much of the advice written for parents tends to focus on helping kids prepare to start primary, rather than high school.

Naturally, some of our children will find this big step less daunting than their peers.

For some, high school might already be a familiar place. Perhaps they attend a school that continues through from primary to secondary school. Or maybe they have an older sibling at high school already.

Others, like my daughter, enjoy change. Like others with a novelty-seeking temperament, she relishes change, viewing it as an adventure.

Many other children however, find change to be quite the opposite — unsettling, daunting and downright overwhelming.

Regardless of your child’s temperament though, there’s a lot of ‘newness’ to adapt to as your child moves from primary to secondary school.

Here are some tips that might help ease the transition for your soon-to-be high schooler.

Try to build familiarity

If your child’s school is yet to host an orientation day, make sure you head along. It will help your child to feel more settled if they’re already familiar with the environment.

Meet your child’s home room teacher if you can — your child will settle more quickly if they feel safe, confident and able to seek help from their teacher when needed.



Photo:

The more parents can do to build familiarity with the classroom before school starts, the better, says Dr Henderson. (Jonathan Beal, file photo: ABC)

Specifically ensure that your child knows which classroom to head to on their first day; where to find the canteen; the toilets; and where to catch the bus or to meet you at the end of the day.

One of the most intimidating changes for new high schoolers is the move from a single teacher in a classroom to multiple teachers, changing timetables and differing classrooms.

Accessing their timetable in advance and taking the opportunity to visit their classrooms ahead of time will hopefully make this change a little less daunting.

If there won’t be an opportunity to visit the school before the term starts, does the school have a website you can explore with your child? Can you do a ‘virtual tour’ of the school? View the staff photo to identify their teacher? Watch the Principal’s video message?

The more you can do to build familiarity, the better.

Meet other students and families

Naturally, the move to high school will feel less daunting for kids who have primary school classmates moving into high school with them.

If that’s not the situation for your child, consider how you can arrange a meet up with some of their new classmates ahead of time.



Photo:

Dr Kaylene Henderson is a child psychiatrist. (Supplied: Matt Barwick)

Does your child’s new school have a Facebook group you could join to request a catch up? Or can you ask that your details be passed on to any other new families who might be keen on a get-together before the school year begins?

Also, some parents are reluctant to ask their child how they’re feeling, for fear of creating anxiety.

Chances are, your child will be feeling a little anxious already and knowing that you’re interested and willing to listen will help them feel better, not worse.

Simply ask your child “How are you feeling about starting high school?” and acknowledge whatever feelings they share with you.

Also, the night before school starts, ensure your child has an early bedtime so they’re well rested for their first day.

Wake them early so that you can avoid frantically rushing and keep stress levels low.

If your child hasn’t been able to make it along to an orientation session, be sure to get your child to school early so that they can locate their classroom, toilets and canteen and introduce themselves to their teacher before the school bell rings.

Allow your child time to adjust

Try not to overschedule your child, at least in term one.

Keep checking in with them, stay present and interested when they talk about their new classmates and ensure there’s time in their week for downtime as they adapt to all the newness that high school brings.

Also remember to keep your own feelings in check. It can be hard for parents who didn’t enjoy high school themselves to feel excited and supportive of this transition, yet we need to be.

Children are very good at picking up on our stress. It signals to them that they’re heading into a dangerous situation and will worsen any anxiety they might have.

Our children will look to us for confidence and reassurance. Regardless of our own experience of high school, it’s important that we view this change as a positive one and be there for our children, cheering them on as their loyal and loving cheer squad.

So here we are, now just days away from high school and my daughter can’t wait to meet her teacher, new friends and to finally have a high school locker — she’s clearly watching more American high school movies than unicorn shows these days.

Once again, she’s feeling “nerve-cited” about this new high school adventure … and I’m here, forever on her team, reminding her that she’s got this.

Dr Kaylene Henderson is a medically trained Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist and one of Australia’s leading parenting experts.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news




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