Transition to High School – A Survival Guide for Parents


“We act as though comfort and luxury

Were the chief requirements of life,

When all we need to make us really happy

Is something to be enthusiastic about.”

Charles Kingsley, 1819 – 1875

Transition periods are stressful times in any young person, or adult’s life. For the young, transitions mark the end of infancy and dependency, in the move from kindergarten, nursery or playgroup to full-time education, and mark the end of those early pre-adolescent years in the move from elementary or primary school to high school.

Much as the child may experience a multitude of conflicting emotion over the loss of what has been and in anticipating the new, so too, parents can be unsure of their dominant emotions, and respond to their child’s emotional state with their own highly charged emotional state. The expression ‘fire fighting fire’ seems rather apt. Better to be forewarned and forearmed, and consider, in the rational light of day, what is really going on here.

I love the Charles Kingsley quotation above, which I feel so eloquently sums up much that is amiss in life: we strive to achieve yet higher levels of material gain, greater and more costly acquisitions, in some
endeavour to attain happiness, yet what we really need is ‘something to be enthusiastic about.’

Transition periods, considered positively, give us ready opportunities to have something to be enthusiastic about – change, a new school setting, new opportunities, greater independence, new found freedoms, interest and passions yet to be discovered, new and exciting relationships and friendships. There is so much that lies ahead, yet sometimes, we seem careless of its appeal as our glance is backward-bound.

In my initial web-post, Moving on to secondary school – a survival guide for parents – I detailed some strategies for planning ahead and coping well with pending transition. Here I have reiterated that advice, which is sound and still highly pertinent, adding further commentary as my mind sees
fit. I hope it may be some help as you, as parents, battle the end of this long Summer vacation, and prepare for what lies ahead.

Here is my action plan for a successful transition to high school –

Plan Ahead

Plan well ahead, counting out the weeks and days and marking them, wherever possible, on some visual calendar that can be clearly seen in the house. Avoid the virtual world of iphone, blackberry and works calendars and make it visual and easily accessible in the home.

Plan out with sticky notes or coloured marker pens significant days in the month ahead, and choose your colours carefully (red marker pen on the first day of school, strange as it may sound, sends out
messages about alarm and caution like no other colour – not the mood to inspire!)

Hi-light significant days and important days so that your shopping, school uniform buying, the essentials of planning for the start of term, are given equal credence and can be seen, like a beacon in the distance.

File things and be organized

Read carefully all the important information you’ve received about your chosen school and keep it safe so that instantly, you can refer to a document or file and know exactly where to find things. One of the greatest of minor causes of stress in any household is the time spent searching for documents or items that one member of the household invariably sees fit to blame another for moving.

Be organized, file things, keep important documents together, buy an attractive file and divider cards and make time to organize.

Shop ahead and give yourself time

Never easy to shop successfully and peacefully with a family in tow, but do structure your time so that you give yourself at least three days for all essential and non-essential shopping: one trip for functional school kit, including shoes, uniform, school bag and games kit; another shop for the more pleasurable accessories that can dominate shopping time; a third trip for all that has been forgotten or not purchased on trips one and two.

Plan each shopping day so that you begin early and build in time for a coffee and cookie stop, so that you can regroup, gather energy and march on.  Aim always to keep the mood light, energetic, anticipating success, being delighted with purchases made and not despondent about money spent. In the UK, the rush of major high street suppliers to out-do each other with low-cost school uniform has meant that whole uniforms can be purchased for far below cost price and for far less than the price of an average meal for a family of four.

Encourage your child’s independence

If you are shopping in a safe and familiar locality, and there is much to achieve scattered around nearby shops, use your judgement to off-load small tasks to your soon to be high school child. Do not push the
responsibility onto your child so that all purchases and decisions are entirely their own, but allow them to have some small part in the tasks that you both face.

Give choices, so that your child may decide which days are to be intended for uniform shopping, which for accessories, and which for the catch up and over-spill shop. Give choices about the time of day you shop or the location or the shops you choose, so that the start of the day is not an endless battleground over your child’s sleeping habits and the missed early start.

Be sensitive

Be aware of your child’s fluctuating emotional state over the Summer and accept mood swings as the order of the day. Accept also that there may not be any easy answers from your child about why they feel as they do, why one day they are full of excitement about the new school and another full of dread, sullen, moody and quiet. Be alert to body language and non-verbal communications which are often a far more reliable sign of distress or content, than what has been said. Young people can often say things to please parents. Whilst they may choose their words carefully, they rarely have the same control over their non-verbal communications and body language.

Be positive and be enthusiastic

Look ahead eagerly to all the exciting changes ahead and see them as challenges to be faced and as wonderful opportunities. Try to incorporate positive words in your conversation when you are talking about the pending transition. Self-monitor your thoughts and the words that you use and
your tone of voice when you are speaking of the new school, new friendships and planning ahead.

See yourself as a successful parent

Anxious parents breed anxious children; confident parents, most generally, engender confidence in their children. When you argue, remind yourself that your child is developing skills in thinking and acting independently, in asserting their will and their ideas about how their life is going – they may not always express these ideas appropriately, but it is a learning process

Anticipate the future will be exciting

Find time to look ahead with your child to all the activities that the new school will offer, all the opportunities being at high school will create and view them positively and with excitement. Avoid contexts where the only times you sit down together to discuss the new school are to resolve problems – transport, costs, activities, getting up in the morning, homework…

If you haven’t already read the details about clubs on offer, options that can be taken, forthcoming trips and events, check them out and list those that sound appealing. Knowledge of a day trip in October can be a good antidote to a bad day in September.

See difficulties as challenges

Consider all potential difficulties as challenges that you know your child can overcome – the loss of old friends who may not be going to the same school can be viewed against all the friends who are yet unknown; the worries about transport and early mornings can be viewed against the excitement of the first day. Every problem or worry can have a different side to it – try to find the positive amongst your child’s concerns, so that you lessen the burden and do not add to it with more concerns of your own.

Do a dress rehearsal

If time and energy permits, do a dress rehearsal for the first day at the new school during the week before. Encourage your child to have an early night and lay out their uniform Just as you might for the first day – and then time how long the morning takes. Take a photo or have some small reward ready to make it all worthwhile – for your both.

Have your camera ready

Take a picture of your child on the morning of their first day at high school – and if you remember, when they come home again at the end of the day. Collect up memories that may be treasured in years to come. And remember to make time over an evening meal to allow your child to talk through what has mattered most in that first day. Above all, make this an evening to celebrate and remember.

“The greatest revolution of our generation

Is the discovery that human beings

By changing the inner attitudes of their minds

Can change the outer aspects of their lives.”

William James,
American Psychologist & Philosopher, 1842 – 1910


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s