Transition is something that is on the minds of many parents and children currently. The end of the school year is racing towards us at a great rate. At times children and parents may both be feeling somewhat unsettled by the changes that the end of year signals. Strategies that will help at this time of the year are:
Validate the feelings your child may be having about the end of their time in their current educational setting. They should be able to celebrate what they have achieved and acknowledge that they may feel a little sad about leaving the familiar.
Give them as much knowledge and experience of their new setting as possible. Visits to their new educational setting, looking at websites and online images as well as talking about what might happen during their first days is helpful. If possible, during the school holidays taking a trip to the new school to allow your child to walk the grounds and play on the equipment in the playground will start to develop some familiarity for them.
Share your own experiences of managing changes in workplace or living places can be helpful. Make sure you emphasise the strategies you used to make things work well.
Both the Education Review Office and the Ministry of Education Research Division have some great research with a New Zealand schools focus to guide thinking about transition. Their findings suggest that rather than an event, transition is a process requiring students to make ongoing changes over an extended time as new challenges appear. Reassuringly for parents, by the end of their first year at secondary school most students in the studies reported many positive experiences at secondary school. They were making good academic gains and few when asked said they would rather return to primary or intermediate. Of interest is that it appears that for some students the second half of the year is a time that negative thoughts about High School appear rather than within the first few weeks.
Protective factors include ensuring that friendships are continued or established at the new school. Students who had friends transitioning to the same school benefited from this, but the new school environment also provided opportunities to make new friendships with a wider range of students. A sense of belonging through engaging in cultural and sporting activities was also a feature of successful transition along with the sense that teachers and school staff provided interesting and engaging lessons and demonstrated that they knew about and cared about their students.
How can parents help to ensure year 9, is a positive year that sets the scene for a successful secondary school career? Developmentally one of the key jobs of an adolescent is to begin to separate from their parents as they move towards adulthood. Parenting an adolescent is tricky as many of you will be aware already. It takes strategy. Keep in mind that at times your offers of help will be declined (possibly not very politely) just because your teen wants to be independent. Overall the best approach is to stay connected to the new school by attending any events that are open to parents such as meet and greets for new parents, parent teacher conferences, sporting events or other. Stay informed of what is happening at school by reading newsletters and school websites. Keep talking to your child about school when you can. Good times for talking are, in the car while you are driving them somewhere or while you are both engaged in a task together such as cooking or washing the car. If your child expresses any concerns, try a problem-solving approach. Generate a range of possible choices allowing your child to make the final choice for themselves. If you are concerned that things aren’t going well get in touch with school. Year level deans are usually responsible for the pastoral care of the children in their year level and will be interested in hearing from you.
Making the move to high school signals a time of change for both parents and children. Recognising this and adapting to the changes by using new strategies will help to make high school a time of positive learning and growth for parents and their children.
Robyn Stead, Child Psychologist and Educator, lives and works in central Auckland.