She’s been at the same school since she was 4 years old. A lovely school with a great reputation for wonderful teachers and strong parent-teacher relationships. She’s had the same familiar faces around her, the same friends, a well-travelled route to and from school and right now, in the final few weeks, I suddenly realise just how big and comfortable that particular security blanket has been….for both of us!
I’m not an idiot. I do recognise that we have to let out children grow up. In fact since before my two were even born I’ve always been looking forward to what was coming next as opposed to some parents I know who dread it. The joy you get from watching them grow and come into their own personalities with their unique senses of humour and perspectives on various things…it’s consistently amazing and unpredictable. In a good way!
However, the ‘daunting’ bit is making sure they stay that way. Continually growing and developing. Safely.
Definitely NOT something I worried about myself starting secondary school. Of course not – I was 11. Unaware of how tough things can be in a somewhat less protective environment than primary school because it is, quite rightly, time for our children to learn new skills particularly concerning dealing with new social situations. Learning how to handle difficult scenarios without mum and dad there all the time for protection. I specifically remember learning how to think on my feet and talk my way out of trouble (thanks to inheriting my mothers smart mouth! ).
Then there’s the very different and more intense work routine, which can come as a bit of a shock after primary school. Homework is a lot more organised, lessons a lot more structured and more is expected of our children all-round. It’s up to us as parents to encourage them to step-up to these expectations and get the absolute best out of school for the short time that they’re there without making them terrified of it and making it an enjoyable time for them.
There are lots of things to consider as the parent but I think it’s incredibly important to minimise this kind of stress for the children. The best way to do this is to minimise it for ourselves. This means being organised and prepared, which has the added bonus of setting a great example for our children to do the same.
So to prepare my daughter for what lies ahead I’ve been thinking hard about getting organised and prepared….This is my list of Top 5’s to try and make things as easy as possible for parents and children alike but remember – this is YOUR list – not the child’s. As long as you are sorted, calm, organised it makes it so much easier for things to fall into place for your child.
Before the First Day
1. Don’t let your child see that you’re anxious – they’ve got their own worries and need to feel able come to you for support.
2. Reassure your child that all the other children starting that day will be feeling just the same as them.
3. Try and arrange a school visit before start of term to familiarise them with the layout – many schools arrange this anyway.
4. Make sure your child has everything they need well in advance – uniform, p.e. kit etc, so they’re not at a disadvantage from Day One.
5. If you can’t actually take or pick up your child to and from school, at least for the first week, make sure they’re familiar with the safest route by doing some practice runs.
During the First Weeks
1. Don’t be late. Make sure your child has a regular alarm for a time reasonable and early enough to have some breakfast and set off in plenty of time. Don’t make them gain a reputation for being ‘the one who’s always late’. It goes without saying I think to make sure uniform, school bag and lunch arrangements are all sorted the night before.
2. Be prepared for a settling in period. Behavioural changes can occur such as resorting to being more babyish, quick to tears or tantrums…they’re just dealing with the stress of a new environment – be understanding and patient, it will pass.
3. Make your child aware of who is head of Pastoral Care at school so they know where to go with any problems.
4. Homework gets more serious very quickly than it ever was at primary school. Make sure you have a routine which works best for your child. Whether it’s sitting down to complete it straight after school or before bedtime….whichever is most comfortable for them to get the best effort out of them. However, if they’re doing it straight after school it’s important to have a snack and drink on hand…most children are ravenous straight after a hard days work!
After Settling In – Going It Alone
1. When your child has settled and is going to and from school alone, make sure they are alert to traffic rules if cycling.
2. If they walk to school it’s important to walk confidently, like they have a destination and not be engrossed in their mobile phone or have their i-Pod playing too loud to be aware of who’s around them.
3. If they’re taking the bus, advise your child not to sit at the back or the top of the bus – stomping ground for trouble-makers!
4. If your child gets lost on the way home or feels in danger, encourage them to head into a shop and speak to a member of staff about calling you to collect them. (I actually did this when I ran away from school once and got lost – had to head into a florists and have them call my mum! Doh! – so embarrassing!)
5. Make sure your childs mobile phone is always charged. Simple way is to get into the habit of plugging it in as soon as they get home and leaving that charger in the same socket all the time. Have a bolt-on set up so that they can always call or text you for free – whether they have credit or not. It’s handy too if they can commit your number to memory.
There are also some great books I would recommend keeping handy throughout the first year of secondary school such as: