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A Guide to Starting Secondary School 

Teenagers in School

Starting secondary school is one of the biggest milestones, for both the young person and their parents or carers. Some children will take it in their stride, while for others it can take time to settle. And although young people can be resilient, it’s important that they’re given that time and space to prepare, while making the most of this hugely anticipated transition. According to Aoife Lee from Parent Support, there are lots of ways we can prepare our preteens and teenagers for secondary school. First, here are the main concerns for students around this big transition. 

New Friendships

This can be one of the hardest factors for a young person, and something they might feel quite anxious about - going from knowing everyone in primary to making new friends in secondary. If the majority of 6th class students spread out among various schools in their area or beyond, this is often the time when they feel vulnerable. 

Suddenly Being Youngest 

Going from being the eldest to the youngest in the building can make pre-teens feel overwhelmed. It’s a significant adjustment that we as parents need to be aware of.  

Lots of Teachers 

Going from having one teacher to many depending on different subjects is a big transition. Different teachers will have different personalities, and different expectations. 

Single Sex to Mixed 

Moving from being in a mixed school (boys and girls) to single sex or vice versa can be a huge transition, more so than we as parents might realise.  

Longer Days 

Some classes last one hour, others 45 minutes.  Though lots of schools now have a half day, your child's days are still significantly longer, more intense and require a lot of organisation on their part. 

Gaining Independence 

In primary school, children start to become independent within the classroom. However, when they start secondary, they need to be organised. Many of them will now be taking public transport, managing a timetable, books and getting around different classrooms. This is part of the adaptation that our children need to become familiar with, and it will take time with lots of support from both parents and school.

Dad helping son with homework

So, what can parents do to support their child? 

1.      Keep Communication Open  

When chatting to them about starting school, it can be helpful to ask ‘what would you like to get out of this first term?’ Remember to validate how they’re feeling, if that’s anxious, excited, apprehensive (this allows them permission to express themselves and that it’s ok). Remember, it takes time for many students to settle in.   

2.      Set a Routine  

Encourage them to go to bed early in those first few weeks; students can be very tired as it’s a longer day. They can also feel overwhelmed. As parents, it’s about being patient, understanding and supportive.   

3.      Have a Point of Contact 

Typically, the year head or tutor meets the student at some point in the day. They are the go-to person for parents to keep in contact with too, if anything comes up at home, so the student is supported.  Keep communication open if necessary. 

4.      Check in with Them 

Help your teenager keep track of what they’re covering in their subjects. Check in a couple of times a week, for example, ask them to tell you two things they’ve learned in Business. This is a great way to reinforce learning at home. 

5.      Find a Homework Routine 

Encourage them to do their homework on the day given, while still fresh in their minds. This can help them keep on top of their workload. 

6.      Manage Screen Time 

Creating expectations around devices will be different for every family. However, if you’re looking for a little guidance, encourage finishing up with devices from 9pm at night and keep them out of the bedroom. This will naturally encourage better sleep.  

About Aoife 

Aoife Lee is a mum of three children, and accredited parent coach and founder of Parent Support. She has been supporting families for the last 20 years and is an award-winning parenting expert with regular appearances on Ireland AM and Today FM. Aoife works with many organisations, giving corporate wellness parenting talks and workshops.

Irish Life Wellbeing in conjunction with Parent support is launching a positive Parenting Programme aimed at working parents. Get in touch with Irish Life Wellbeing to find out more.  
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