You will soon know when a child isn’t settling into the new secondary school! Sleepless nights rule. Moodiness, tears, anger and uncharacteristic behaviour take hold of your child. Suddenly your precious child is almost unrecognizable. What on earth has possessed her? Identifying what is going wrong needs to happen as quickly and as sensitively as possible.
We need to remember that starting secondary school is a huge step for most, if not all children. Even the most confident children who have loved primary school can feel a little apprehensive. They may hide this very well but a few nerves can be expected even for the most outgoing children. Don’t be concerned if initially things aren’t going as well as you (and your child) expected. Sometimes it simply takes a little time for children to adjust to the new subjects, structures and expectations. However, do take action if your child isn’t looking more settled and relaxed after the first two or three weeks. And act immediately if your child arrives home openly distressed or withdrawn. Parents should almost always contact the teacher if children arrive home very upset and unwilling to explain what has happened.
Here are the first 5 questions to consider and steps you can take to smooth the waters for your child…
Has one negative experience rocked your child’s confidence?
Some children are overwhelmed at the start of secondary school and one negative experience can set them back. This could be a falling out with friends or a misunderstanding with a teacher. The trick is to identify what has upset your child. When the opportunity arises – and over a few days – subtly run a few questions past your son and gauge his reaction. ‘What do your friends think of the school?’ ‘What’s your favourite subject?’ ‘Who is the best teacher you have?’ ‘What’s the new school like?’ ‘How is your friend Harry going?’ ‘What’s the sport program like?’ You may hit a nerve with one of these questions so carefully watch facial expression and body language. If you can identify what’s going on, reassure your child. Never trivialise. What can seem to be small potatoes to an adult, can be monumentally hurtful or embarrassing to a sensitive child or teenager. Tread carefully!
Is your child missing friends from primary school?
The issue could be that all of your child’s friends are in different classes. Again, don’t trivialise. Friends are essential for the happiness of all young people. ‘That’s bad luck. Can you meet up at recess and lunchtime? How about we ask them over this weekend?’ Your child could also be missing good friends who are now at other schools. Invite them over too!
Does your child currently have no friends at the new school?
If you suspect that your child is not making any new friends (and old friends are at other schools) act quickly. Without letting your child know, contact the home room teacher or level coordinator and discuss your concerns. Teachers have lots of tricks to help young people make new friends. The next time group work is on the agenda, the teacher can subtly make sure your child is put into a group of really friendly children. You can be assured that group work will be on the ‘to do’ list very quickly. Teachers go out of their way to quickly get to know students in their classes (particularly the brand new secondary school students) and will easily be able to pair your child up with a like-minded student. All children and all teenagers need at least one friend and teachers will do their very best to help you out if this is the issue upsetting your child.
Is bullying preventing your child from being happy?
You will generally notice a marked change in behaviour and overall mood if this is the issue as well as a reluctance to talk about school. Some students also make every excuse under the sun to avoid going to school including feigning illness. Look for bruises or damaged books and school equipment. Most young people are very reluctant to tell parents about bullying as they typically feel that they are somehow to blame. They feel embarrassed and ashamed. If you do form a belief that bullying may be happening, gently bring this up in a conversation with your child. ‘I’ve heard that sometimes students pick on other students. Has this ever happened to your friends or you?’ Again, watch carefully for a reaction. Even the best young actor will find it hard to completely hide all signs of hurt, fear, anger or embarrassment. Be ready to explain that this is completely unacceptable and that the person with the problem is the bully. If your child shuts down and refuses to discuss the issue, allow them space, but do contact the school to make your concerns known. Never wait and hope that bullying will just go away. It rarely does. And the damage accumulates very quickly. Act immediately. Teachers are generally very good at spotting what is going on but they are incredibly busy. Alerting them to the possibility that bullying is occurring can help enormously.
Is Teacher Trouble upsetting your child?
Moving into secondary school means that children suddenly have to adjust to having a lot of different teachers rather than one or two in primary school. This can be challenging in itself and sometimes young people feel that a particular teacher doesn’t like them or that a particular teacher is scary. Try to bring up the topic without making it too personal. ‘So what are the teachers like? Who is the nicest/best? Are there any dragons?’ Again, watch for any discomfort as you broach this topic. If the problem is that your child feels a teacher doesn’t like him, offer reassure. ‘Maybe the teacher wasn’t angry with you at all, just busy. Perhaps the teacher was having a bad day. Her dog could be sick! Give it a few days and let’s see if things improve. Do your best in this teacher’s subject and impress her!’ But if you notice that your child doesn’t cheer up in a week or so, do approach the school and explain what has happened. There aren’t many teachers left in schools today who don’t genuinely care about their students. It’s a tough gig – intense work, long hours, and average pay.
Most teachers would really appreciate knowing if there has been a misunderstanding with a student and will do everything in their power to patch things up. As a courtesy, I would always approach the teacher in question rather than immediately going over their head to school administration. We would feel the same in our workplaces. And approach the teacher without your child knowing about it. Most pre-adolescents and teens don’t like to think that mum or dad has to fight a battle for them. Teenage pride is legendry. Most teens are afflicted with the ‘saving face’ syndrome and would hit the roof if they knew mum or dad interfered in what they see as their life!