How to Help Your Teen with a Successful Transition to High School.
by Dr. Jenni Silva (Clinical Psychologist),
Hi everyone, I am Dr. Jenni Silva. I am a clinical psychologist/director from Brilliant Minds Psychology at Springwood. I work mainly with children, teens and their parents at the clinic and I also see adults too! However, I mainly see children with anxiety and with autism spectrum conditions. I absolutely love psychology – it’s never boring & there is always something to learn! I love learning and I am always learning new stuff from the children, teens and parents I work with! I am passionate about working with children, teens and their parents! I have two children myself, one is studying occupational therapy at UQ and the other is in Grade 8. So, when it comes to the transition to high school (and university) and the ups and downs of starting high school or even changing high schools I know first hand what it can be like from a parent perspective. My son just recently started at a new high school at the beginning of Term 3, and I think I was more anxious than he was! I think sometimes parent anxiety is often greater than that of our own child’s – this is pretty common 🙂 . The transition to high school is something that parents talk to me a lot about at the clinic. When it comes to children on the autism spectrum, I often recommended the teen have a support plan to help with the transition.
Well, when it comes to starting high school, we did it, and now it is your child’s turn! Every year many children around the globe make the transition from primary to high school.
Understandably, young teens often have mixed feelings about starting high school, common feelings reported include sadness, excitement and feeling nervous. Transition can be a complicated step in child development, this is because there are changes not only in their social environment such as having to leave friends from Year 6 and make new friends, but also the new school environment. Not only do they have to get used to the new school, changing classrooms, different teachers but also, they have to get used to having many more students around! This transitional step in child development can be overwhelming for many!
Here are some top concerns teens report about starting high school:
- More homework (this is a big concern!)
- Having to work harder and having a bigger work load
- Being teased/bullied by others (this is a big concern!)
- Older children (being the youngest grade)
- Getting lost in a larger and unfamiliar school
- Making new friends
- Changing classes for different subjects
- Having to change in to PE uniform (privacy)
- Catching public transport/getting to school
Well, no wonder our kids are feeling overwhelmed, this is a pretty big list of concerns! I recall being worried about whether I would have enough time to get changed into my PE uniform and having to remember to bring my PE uniform on sports days. These may seem like little things however; little things can cause big stressors while we are getting use to something new.
Although this can be a stressful time, at the same time, many teens also report feeling excited about moving to high school and look forward to new challenges, more subjects and the chance to make new friends.
The positive aspects reported by students transition to high school include the following:
- Increased freedom
- More challenges
- Meeting new friends
- Having their own locker
- Excited about different subjects
So…How do you know if your child has had a successful transition?
We all want our children to transition easily to high school and to flourish. Research tells us that a few factors show your child is transitioning well. Here are some key points to look for that may come up in your conversation with your child. This should give you a good idea as to how your child is adjusting to high school.
- Has developed friendships
- Feels a sense of school belonging
- Likes the teachers and students
- They have settled well and they cause no concern to parents
- They are interested in school and school work
- They are used to their new routines
- Appears settled most of the time
How do you know if your child is struggling?
- Is showing signs of depression, anxiety and anger
- Has not made friends
- Complains of feeling sick often in the morning, especially Sunday night or Monday morning.
- School refusal (seek help early)
- Is not interested in school work or motivation has decreased
- Confidence and self-esteem have dropped and is engaging it frequent negative self-talk e.g., “I’m dumb”, “No one likes me”
- Does not feel a sense of school belonging
- Reports being and seems to be unhappy about high school
If things don’t improve after the first couple of weeks, seek help early by talking to the year coordinator/guidance officer and seek extra support if required.
What Helps During the Transition?
Managing Feelings: Here are some suggestions for helping with the ups and downs that many teens experience during transitions
- What we do know from the research is that supportive relationships help with this developmental transition! That means, just be available, check in and see how your teen is going. Validate any feelings and just provide a listening supportive space for your teen.
- Listen for emotions. Tune in, listen to what your child is saying. Reflect what your child has said e.g., “It sounds like you are having a tough time with getting use to high school” or if they have transitioned well “It sounds like you are really enjoying your new school”.
- Talk to your child about school, but be prepared some children do not want to share their experiences. Remember adolescence is the stage of identity formation, so it is natural that they want to keep some stuff private. If your teen isn’t talkative – don’t insist just let her or him know you’re around if he/she does what to chat. For more information on how to talk to your teen checkout this tip sheet http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/talking_about_school.html
- For teens struggling, talk to your school about getting a support plan to help with the transition. This can help for children with high levels of anxiety and those on the autism spectrum.
- If your teen is struggling, remind them that this is a big change and it can take time to get use to something new.
- Focus on your teens strengths! It is so easy to focus on the negative when we are having a tough time. Check our these strength cards.
- Model problem solving to your teen when a problem emerges.
- Model good emotional regulation – that means stay calm! (check out the Free Triple P parenting course https://www.triplep-parenting.net.au/qld-uken/find-help/triple-p-online/)
Sense of Belonging
We do know for teens feelings a sense of belonging is a great help too and really helps with the transition to high school! Here are some suggestions.
- Work on ways to increase the sense of teens ‘school belonging’, whether that be by joining different curricular activities, clubs (chess, drama, etc.), or sports groups. This helps build new connections and increases the sense of school belonging.
- Friend support, keeping in touch with friends even if they have changed school can help during this transition. Still get together with old friends too, this helps keep relationships in place during the transition as forming new friendships can take time.
- We do know that school belonging and friends support has been found to be associated with better high school transitions.
The Everyday Stuff – Sleep, Nutrition, Hygiene & Exercise
- Teens needs sleep! Make sure you are setting healthy sleep hygiene. Make
sure phones are kept out of the room at night. A sleep deprived teen is often an angry teen which makes it harder to cope with stressors! Good sleep is essential, research indicates that teens need between 8-10 hours of sleep every night! What we do know is that teens are sleep deprived with most teens sleeping only 6.5-7.5 hours per night. If you noticed mood swings or mood concerns, double check that your teen is sleeping enough. Not getting enough sleep affects mental health and wellbeing. Check out this Sleep Hygiene Tip sheet (http://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/docs/Info-sleep%20hygiene.pdf)
- Good diet! Make sure your teen is eating a well-balanced diet. This means make sure that they are taking healthy and nutritious food to school.
- Eat breakfast!
- Shower daily! Keep up good hygiene. Check out this tip sheet to help with guidance on good hygiene for teens. Don’t forget the deodorant! *** http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/hygiene.html
- Physical activity, stay active! Physical activity is linked with improved psychological well-being.
The Everyday Stuff – Getting to School
- If your child will be catching public transport, help him/her become familiar prior to the first day. Catch the bus train, etc. together over the holidays.
- Make sure you visit the school prior to the first day, do a tour etc. Increasing familiarity can help reduce anxiety. Many schools now have transition programs – ask your school about this.
How to Help with Study Skills
- It’s amazing how study skills and organisation can really help! *** J Teach study skills, the teen brain is a developing one! Teens often struggle with planning assignments, exams etc. (check out Dr. Meg’s Study Planner article in coming weeks). Staying on track and good organisation and planning is essential for a positive transition.
Lastly don’t expect your teen to have this all sorted, this is a massive developmental transition! Adjustment can take time and she/he may need some support!
Well that’s it from me! I hope this helps.
Dr Jenni Silva
at Brilliant Minds Psychology
- Understanding Students Transitions in High School: Demographic Variation and the Role of Supportive Relationships (Benner et al., 2017)
- Friends and Physical Activity during the Transition from Primary to Secondary School. (Jago et al., 2012)
- Parent training to reduce problem behaviours over the transition to high school: Tests of indirect effects through improved emotional regulation skills. ( Mason et al., 2015)
- Assessing pupil concerns about transition to secondary school (Rice, Frederickson & Seymour, 2011).
- Teenagers and Sleep. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/teenagers-and-sleep