Follow their current school’s lead
The best way to begin is to look at what your child’s current primary school is doing to prepare the children who will be leaving. A lot of primary schools use the final year to talk about moving up to middle school or high school. They usually start letting the children make more decisions for themselves, just like they will as teenagers in senior school. For many parents, the relationship that they will have with high school will be very different. At primary school, parents can often become quite involved in a child’s learning and classroom activities, but when they move up, this usually changes, and some parents can find this a real problem and difficult to get used to.
Communication is key
Obviously, talk is a really big part of helping kids adjust – parents really should make an effort to learn about their kids’ new friends, as well as talking to them about how to develop new friendships, too. Often there’ll be a variety of different primary schools feeding into a secondary one, and for some kids it can take a bit of time to get to know their new classmates.
It also helps to discuss the extra opportunities that will be available at high school. They’ll probably have a lot more extra-curricular activities, which are so important at this age – they can really complement learning, and it’s a good way to keep older children engaged and on track. It’s also a great chance for them to branch out and try something new, and a good way to make friends, too.
Set new boundaries
Kids will need plenty of practice with making good choices and deciding things for themselves. This is a major part of their learning at senior school, so parents should start to do the same at home, too. Give them a little more freedom and independence, within limits – whether it’s choosing the activity they want to do in their downtime with friends, or perhaps changing the way in which you supervise them. Don’t give them total freedom, however. You still have to have boundaries, and know that they are safe, too.
At this age, children may start to resist when a parent asks them to do things in a certain way. What teenagers want is a sense of control, and the feeling that they’re being heard. Problem-solving together, and coaching them to figure things out on their own, will be building some pretty good life skills along the way.
Even at this age, kids must have a decent amount of sleep each night. They are growing so fast, the high school workload will take some getting used to, plus they’ll be doing more activities, too. Consequently they still need good routines, and consequences for their behaviour.
Settling in time
Parents need to look out for signs of a child not settling in. Give it time, it could take half a term for a child to really find his feet, and be there to answer any questions they might have. You’ll also find that a child’s peer group will become a lot more important to him at this age – that may have been less so at primary school. That’s just part of growing up and becoming a teenager.
Watch out for signs of bullying
Kids will become more withdrawn, spend more time on their own, stop making friends – their moods and attitudes can change. When kids get older they do tend to spend more time on technology, so bullying isn’t just face to face any more. It now happens electronically, and when this is the case it happens really quickly. Kids follow text messages, or put things on Facebook, so be conscious of how much access your children have to these devices, where they have to be and what the rules are around them. Try to ensure that they keep them in a public place in your home, and don’t allow them to keep mobile phones in their rooms at night.
Preparing for homework
With an increased work load at high school, it’s all about learning good time management skills. Kids will be studying a lot of subjects to begin with, and most of these will be giving homework too. Try to sit down with your children and draw up an afternoon timetable. Look at the regular events or activities they have to attend after school, then work out how homework will fit in around this. It’s also important to find your child’s optimal time for working. Some children work better in the morning, and are much more efficient if they get up earlier and do an hour’s study then. Others may work better in the early evening. Try not to say, ‘this is how you should do it’, rather coach them to figure this out on their own.
Therese holds parenting classes at KidsFirst Medical Centre, Al Wasl Road, www.kidsfirst.ae (04 348 5437).