Daily Archives: February 4, 2014
Many young people find starting high school a time of mixed emotions: excitement, fear, confusion, curiosity and adventure and most admit that starting a new school experience can be a bit scary. They may feel lost and confused, miss their old primary school friends and worry that they might not fit in. Expect your young person will have to cope with changes and some might be challenged as they adjust to differences.
Most students will be negotiating body changes in response to puberty. As this is an individual journey your coltish young person might share classes with students who look like they have left their wives and kids in the car park! High Schools are much bigger, anonymous places than primary school where everyone knew your name and school systems with different classrooms and different teachers add an extra challenge. Friendships change and even established friendships can be challenged in the high school melting pot as students tackle one of the primary developmental tasks of establishing identity.
If you find that your student is irritable and short tempered, being withdrawn, changing behaviour by being disagreeable or rebellious or articulating stress through pain in the tummy or head or school refusal these might be signs that your teen is not coping. While many students exhibit some of these behaviours anyway, if these signs persist after the first few weeks it’s time to speak to the school to help address the source of stress.
Parents also might find this a stressful and confusing time while they are juggling work and family commitments and figuring out how much help and support to offer the new high school student. Here are my favourite pieces of parental advice drawn over the years from our parenting groups:
- Remember that despite their emerging sophistication students still need to hear you say you love, approve of and support them
- Provide reassurance by normalising some of the confused and unsure feelings and perhaps sharing your own high school experience
- Celebrate their strengths: they need to be reminded of what they do well while they tackle challenges
- Be a supportive listener and don’t give advice too quickly: help them problem solve and encourage thinking for themselves
- Be patient while your student tackles the challenges of first year high school and remember that being organised is usually a learned skill
- Get to know the school community – other parents can be your best resource.
Initiating conversations with your child or young person around school anxiety can be difficult, but some good conversation starters can be open questions such as “How are you feeling about starting school?”, Are you thinking about what school might be like this year?”,… Followed up with -”It can help to talk about it”.
Emotion coaching your child or young person is important to enable feelings to be named and explored. This may mean making an observation such as “You look like you feel worried/sad/angry/upset. Is that right? “If the answer is yes, then you can follow that up with a question about what the worry/sadness/anger is about.
It’s important then to acknowledge these worries by saying something like” I can see why you feel that way” but follow that up with some ideas around resolving them by saying “Have you got any ideas about what you could do to stop those feelings…let me know if you need help coming up with a plan.”
Developing self understanding in your child or young person can be encouraged by asking questions that help them to look beneath their level of understanding so questions like “What has made you feel that way? or “ Why did you make that choice?” This can have your child or young person begin to think about what the underlying cause of their anxiety and then develop the ability to respond to what is going on.
Sometimes talking about expected feelings can help so asking your child or young person if they expect to feel nervous/worried when they start or return to school can be followed up with “How do you think you’ll manage that?” and then..”If you do start feeling worried, what is something you can do to make yourself feel better?”
Remember that your goal as a parent is to help your children put together the puzzle that is feelings and past experiences and develop skills to give them some control over them which in turn will lower their anxiety.