The Leap to High School

November 15, 2017

by Jenny Atkinson


For many children, leaving the familiarity of primary school and heading into the unknown world of high school can be like a rollercoaster ride — new and exciting moments mixed with confusion, uncertainty and fear. Children are also dealing with the emotional, physical and psychological changes that puberty brings, making this one of the most significant transitions they will experience.

Transitioning to high school is not just about moving to a new school. To cope with the demands placed upon them, children need to develop a range of skills and attitudes, and this takes time and support.

If you are worried about how your child will handle this move, don’t despair. Outlined below are some practical suggestions on how to support your child before he or she starts, and also in the first weeks and months of high school. Your support will make all the difference
for a smooth transition and can help to set your child up for continued success.

Before starting high school

  • Fear of the unknown is one of the biggest challenges children face prior to starting. Looking through the school’s website and visiting the school for open days, performances and orientation days help your children become more comfortable in their new surroundings.

  • Looking over a map of the school can help reduce anxiety as children often worry that they will get lost in a much bigger school.

  • Reassure your child that while there are some differences ahead, many things such as basic school rules and expectations of behaviour stay the same as primary school. Not everything changes.

  • Highlight the aspects of high school you think your child will enjoy. For some this may be making lots of new friends, while others might like more interesting science or art classes.

  • Encourage your children to be independent, as it will help them handle their responsibilities in high school.

  • Help them develop a range of coping strategies to deal with problems that arise.

  • Set up a plan for travelling to and from school, including a back-up plan for missed buses or trains. Do a trial run together if they feel unsure.

The first few weeks of high school

  • Maintain family routines at home as this offers stability at a time when they are coping with many changes.

  • Make sure your children eat well and get plenty of sleep, as they may be quite tired in the first few weeks. Keep an eye on the balance between family life, homework and activities.

  • When children feel unsure during transition, they benefit from feeling connected with their family. It helps to keep the lines of communication open so they’re more likely to share what’s going on with their transition.

  • Joining a club, sports team or interest group at school are great ways to make new friends.

  • Build their time management and organisation skills to help them cope with the amount of homework. These are skills learned over time so you may need to offer ongoing support. Encourage them to write all assignments, homework and events in their diary.

  • Colour coding their books, diary and timetable (one colour per subject) can help them to be more organised.

  • Remind them to check through their timetable each night while they pack the items they need for the next day.

  • Set regular times for homework and manage the distractions.

Who can help at school?

During transition, children are still learning about how high school works, and sometimes what feels like a big problem, can often have a simple solution. Don’t hesitate to contact your child’s Year Advisor – your first point of contact – especially if you feel your son or daughter is not coping. Most schools also have school counsellors available for helping students or parents.

Golden opportunity

While this transition can be challenging, it’s also a time when children are most open to learning new skills. They want to find solutions to challenges they are facing, so it’s a great time for you to help them develop positive attitudes to schoolwork and friendships,
good work habits, perseverance, and skills in time management and organisation. Setting up routines to consolidate these skills over the following months will prepare them well for later years in high school. It’s a golden opportunity, so make the most of them being willing to adapt. It’s also a great opportunity for you to connect with your child as you support them through this important time of transition.



This was first published in Exploring Teens Issue 8 - Transitions

Jenny Atkinson is a transition to high school advisor and the best-selling author of ‘High School Rocks: Make Starting High School An Awesome Experience’. She has 30 years’ teaching experience and is the founder of the ‘Get Set For High School’ Program, a series of workshops and online website for students, parents and teachers to ease the transition from primary to high school.

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