Making the move from middle school to high school can be a traumatic transition for some freshman. The changes involved in that move can be overwhelming at times, whether they are social, academic or physical. Suddenly, students that were guided through the academic process by parents and teachers are expected to perform much more independently than ever before. At the same time, high school is often a period where friendships change, as students struggle to figure out where they belong. The good news is that there are plenty of ways parents can help their new high school student adjust to the transition.
Understand Potential Stressors
According to well-known pediatrician Dr. Paul, there are many factors that can cause stress at this time of life, including:
- Changes to school structure, including more teachers, larger school building and faster pace
- Changes to body image, as students begin attending school with others who are basically young adults
- Changes in friends, as students head to different schools and different classes than those they grew up with
With these changes come fear – fear of not fitting in, not keeping up and not measuring up to parental expectations. While many students may not voice these fears to their parents, that doesn’t mean the anxiety doesn’t exist. Parents need to tune into potential stressors in their child’s life during this time, so they can proactively help the child work through those anxieties and concerns.
Once parents understand the factors that contribute to the stress of the high school transition, they can provide reassurances to their child that will help him make it through the stressful changes. Fox News suggests that parents avoid brushing off a child’s concerns by simply telling them “it will be alright.” Instead, talk to your child to understand the specific anxiety he is dealing with so you can provide appropriate reassurance for that particular situation.
For example, if your child is concerned about making new friends in high school, remind him of all the times he has successfully made friends in the past. Talk to him about activities he could get involved in to meet other students that share his interests. Bring his strengths to the forefront to help him understand why his current friends chose to spend time with him in the first place.
If academics are the primary worry for your child, help her create a schedule that includes ample time for homework, as well as time for activities and friends. Set up a homework station that includes all the supplies she will need to complete assignments. Purchase a planner (many high schools now provide these to students) and show her how to write down assignments to make it easier to keep track of tests and project due dates.
Use Transition Services
Many high schools offer some type of transition services that provide for an easier adjustment into those secondary years. Education.com cites a number of types of transition services that might be available, including activities that offer information about the high school experience, those that provide social support and others that allow middle school students to connect to high school students before arriving at the school. Take advantage of transition programs that expose your student to the high school experience prior to the first day of school whenever possible.
It is very important for incoming high school students to learn their way around the school and get an idea of the structure of the school day. High schools that offer open houses or orientation days that bring middle school students into the high school setting are an excellent opportunity to do just that. These orientations are typically offered during the second half of the year leading up to the move to high school, so be on the lookout for when they are scheduled.
Tune into the System
High school is also a new experience for parents, so it is important for parents to learn the ropes right along with their students. Attend PTA meetings, back to school nights and open houses that allow you the opportunity to meet faculty and administration. School Family recommends that parents work with teachers to keep up with their child’s academic work and adjustment.
“Be involved,” Susanne Livingston, a high school counselor in Georgia, told School Family. “Go to every meeting that’s announced, every open house. Stay in contact with teachers and work with the teachers.”
Education.com offers additional ways parents can become involved in their child’s high school experience, including meeting with advisors, scheduling conferences with teachers and even spending a day at the high school to get a feel for what the student’s school day is like. While this is a time to step back and let students explore their new environment on their own, they also need to know their parents are there working with them to help them succeed.
When students get involved in extracurricular activities in high school, they cultivate a sense of belonging and meet new friends with similar interests to their own. Bright Hub Education also reminds parents and students that those activities are essential to building up a student’s resume for college or the professional world. They might even lead to scholarships after graduation. Activities help students explore interests outside the classroom as well, whether their interests lie in sports, academic clubs or the arts.
While activities are an important part of the high school experience, too many activities at one time can create undue stress on a student trying to adjust to the academic rigors of high school. Parents need to ensure their students are discerning about their choices in extracurricular activities so that the students enjoy their additional clubs and competitions without wondering how they will find the time to complete homework assignments.
Use Summer to Bone Up
If your child struggled with a particular subject throughout middle school, help her strengthen her skils over the summer before high school begins. There are plenty of activities you can do together to improve specific skills. If the problem goes beyond your own scope of expertise, consider hiring a tutor over the summer months to help her refine his skills before high school begins.
By the same token, most students suffer from at least a degree of learning loss over summer break. Since the first few weeks of high school may be challenging enough without the need to regain skills, consider keeping up the learning over vacation. It doesn’t have to be a full-time endeavor – a few minutes a day of math or reading a couple of books – can help keep your student’s head in the academic ring once the first bell rings at the start of the school year.
Cultivate Time Management Skills
High school is the time when time itself is at a premium. As students learn to juggle a larger homework load, after-school activities and a part-time job in some cases, the strain of managing those precious hours can become very stressful. Meet the problem head-on by instilling time management skills into your student prior to the start of high school.
Show him how to organize his daily schedule to ensure he has time for everything he needs to do. Teach her how to maintain a personal calendar to help her remember upcoming events. Help structure the room, particularly the study center, so supplies are easily found and precious time is not spent looking for evasive pencils, shoes or homework. The right system initiated over the summer will mean less stress over time management throughout the school year.
Some kids have not yet developed good study habits by the time they hit high school, so teaching your child how to study may be a part of the time management lesson. While some students work best in a quiet space alone, others may focus better at the kitchen table with Mom or Dad close by. If your child seems to be having difficulty with a particular class, talk to the teacher about the best way to study for that subject. Teachers usually have a wealth of constructive recommendations to help students succeed.
Start Talking College
When students hit the high school track, those grades become much more important. Colleges look at transcripts from all four years in high school, but some students do not realize this relevance in the early months of their high school career. While you don’t want to cause undue stress by talking up the grades during the initial adjustment phase, it is never too early to get students thinking about life beyond high school.
School Family explains that high school students may get onto different tracks in high school, based on how they want to spend their high school years and what they want to do after graduation. Some students will set their sights on college, so a college prep track may be the best choice for them. Students who are highly motivated may thrive on a path filled with honors courses that offer sufficient challenge, and provide them with more academic opportunities after high school. Some students will be looking ahead to community college or employment directly after high school, and there is an appropriate high school track for these students as well.
Build a Support Network
Even students who are sufficiently prepared for high school may find themselves sinking instead of swimming from time to time. When the water starts rising, your student needs to know who she can turn to for help. Create a support network for your student during the early days of high school, so they have plenty of options when the load gets too heavy to shoulder alone.
This network will certainly include you as the parent, especially if you are open and accepting of your student and her decisions. Students are more likely to turn to parents for help if they know their parents are more interested in providing assistance than in judging their behavior or offering unwanted advice. Other individuals to include in the support network might be an older sibling, an extended family member, a member of the clergy, school counselor, teacher or doctor. Make sure your child is comfortable talking to at least some of these individuals when the pressure begins to mount. Assure your child everyone needs extra assistance from time to time, and there is no shame in asking for help when it is needed.
While many parents believe high school is the time to step back and let the child take the reins, that does not mean parents should take themselves out of the picture completely. In fact, high school students may need the presence of their parents more than ever during these years, even if it is only to offer a steadfast presence in the midst of a constantly changing life phase. Parents can be involved without becoming a constant fixture in the child’s activities – by keeping up on developments within the school, knowing the child’s friends and keeping track of the child’s activities.
Make your home a comfortable place for your high schooler to hang out with his friends, so the gang will choose your house most often. Become a welcoming host to the high school crowd, keeping snacks in the pantry and movies near the television. Keep an eye on what kids are doing without hovering over them during their social time. Remain available to offer a hand if they need it, or volunteer to be the chauffer for activities so you know where your child is going, with whom and when.
The high school transition will be one of the biggest for your child up to this point in his life. For some students, the move to high school is an exciting one filled with possibilities, while other students see the change as scary and overwhelming. No matter how your child approaches high school, you - as the parent - play a key role in the success of this transition. By keeping these tips in mind, you can help your child move into his high school years and beyond, smoothly and successfully.
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