How to prepare your child emotionally for high school

Beginning high school is a big moment in any child’s life and it’s natural that they'll have a few worries.

A father is walking home with his kids.

Prue Greene, Leader,  Secondary Curriculum, Learning and Teaching Directorate, says high school coincides with a number of other changes in a teenager’s life.

“They’ll be experiencing increased responsibility and autonomy, new social demands and the hormonal changes that accompany puberty,” she said.

“All of these can place extra stress on your child at time when academic expectations are also growing. It’s no surprise they might feel a little moody or anxious at times. Try to be patient and remember it’s all a normal part of growing up.”

Find out more about moving to Year 7 in the Information Guide and Expression of Interest form for parents and carers.

This page includes tips and information to help prepare your child emotionally for the start of Year 7.

What to expect

Ideally your child will have participated in high school transition programs during Year 6. Perhaps they’ll have had an opportunity to see inside their new school and meet teachers and fellow students on Orientation Day.

Most high schools organise Orientation Days around November or December and they’re a great opportunity to ask questions and start building up a picture of what Year 7 life will be like.

Even if your child wasn’t able to attend Orientation, you can begin this process at home just by talking about the differences between primary school and high school.

New classroom experience

One of the most obvious changes is the greater number of teachers.

Most Year 7 students will have eight or more teachers, with a roughly corresponding set of different classrooms or learning spaces. Classrooms are often spread across a larger campus and class periods may also be longer than in primary school.

Timetables

One of the challenges of high school is learning to navigate between classes – perhaps carrying heavy books or equipment.

High school students will have detailed timetables. They need to check these each evening to ensure they have the right books and equipment as well as completing any homework required.

Reading and understanding timetables can take some time to master, and moving from room to room might unsettle and tire your child at first. Allow for this at home by providing the opportunity for a little extra rest and quiet time.

New subject material

Across the eight key learning areas in high school, Year 7 students will be introduced to ideas and subject material they won’t have encountered before. They will also be expected to be more independent, self-reliant and self-motivated than in primary school.

Lessons will often be more student centred and teachers will become resources and guides, rather than instructors.

These changes mean your child will need a new set of practical skills for high school that will gradually develop as they progress.

Homework and study

Homework is likely to vary in amount and type each day, but most students will need to do some every night. This might be the completion of specific exercises or starting an assignment that’s due later. Have a look at our guide to homework in high school for more information.

As high school progresses Ms Greene says students also need to come to grips with the concept of study, in addition to the more familiar routine of homework.

“Study time is different to homework,” she says.

“During study time, students should go over the day's work, read their textbooks or notes, create summaries and try to increase their understanding of concepts covered in class.”

New friends

Making new friends can be a daunting task for Year 7 students, especially when they find themselves in classes filled with children they don't know yet. Finding people they like who share their interests is motivating, however, and will increase their self-esteem.

It’s a good idea to find a moment to discuss your child’s new school experiences with them each day. Talk about the people they've met or the observations they've made – that way you can be aware of any difficulties when they arise rather than when it's too late.

New social pressures

Ms Greene says teenagers can often feel a new level of peer pressure and may find themselves doing things they wouldn’t normally do.

“Dealing with peer pressure is one of the skills young people need to learn in high school,” she says.

“Parents and carers can help by talking about these situations and encouraging their kids to focus on authentic friendships based on shared interests and respect.”

Ready for high school checklist

Good preparation will help your child feel more relaxed and ready for the new challenges they face in high school:

Before they start

  • Let the school principal know if your child has allergies or additional needs.
  • Buy and label school uniforms, books and equipment.
  • Break in school shoes to make them more comfortable.
  • Organise, discuss and rehearse school travel. Have a back-up if routes are disrupted.
  • Talk positively about the move with your child, discuss what excites them and any worries they may have.
  • Make sure your child has a quiet work area at home and stationery supplies they need.
  • Organise personal hygiene items in school bags.
  • Decide what your child will do before and after school, and when they need to be home.
  • Discuss emergency and safety issues.
  • Remind your child that school counselling staff are here to help.
  • If your home or school is in a bushfire-affected area, check for special arrangements and support.

The first day

  • Help set your child’s alarm. Encourage them to get themselves ready on time.
  • Provide money and your contact numbers.
  • Make sure you have the school’s phone number with you.
  • Pack a healthy lunch or encourage healthy choices if your school has a canteen.

The first week

  • Photocopy timetables for school diaries, locker doors and the fridge.
  • Remind your child to note assignments, homework and events in their diary.
  • Check through the timetable each night while your child packs their bag. Encourage your child to eat healthy food and get a good night’s sleep.
  • Give the school your current contact details.
  • If possible, try to arrange for a parent, grandparent or guardian to be home before and after school to provide a little extra comfort and support.

Coping with stress and anxiety

Reassure your child that ups and downs are normal for everyone and try to focus on positive coping strategies, rather than negative ones.

Ms Greene says good attitudes and habits learned in childhood and adolescence can last a lifetime.

“Positive coping strategies are ones that increase long-term resilience and well-being, rather than providing short-term relief or distraction,” she says.

Psychologists have identified some of the factors that make someone resilient. These include:

  • having a positive attitude
  • being optimistic
  • having the ability to regulate emotions
  • seeing failure as a form of helpful feedback.

If things don’t gradually improve and your child’s anxieties don’t seem to have any obvious cause, it might be time to speak to a school counsellor or seek other professional help.

You can find out more about resilience and other common health and wellbeing issues for teenagers in our Wellbeing section.

Bushfire-related advice

If your child has been affected by bushfires, or their school is in a bushfire-affected area, their start at school may be especially challenging. Depending on your area and your situation, your child may be going to school under special circumstances. They may also need additional support. Find up-to-date information, advice and support resources.

More back-to-school resources

Find the latest articles, checklists, and up-to-date information to help you get ready for school on our 2020 back-to-school hub.

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