Starting secondary school is a big step for most children (and their parents) and even super confident young people can stumble in the first few weeks or months and not settle in as well as expected. While many pick themselves up, others can head down a very unhappy pathway. It’s important that parents know the typical signs that a child may be struggling to settle into the new school and know how to help turn things around.
In the early months at a new secondary school, some parents understandably attribute changes in their child’s mood to normal teenage behaviour and teenage moodiness. While sometimes this can be the case, moodiness and other new behaviour can be signs that something isn’t right at the new school.
Could this just be teenage moodiness?
If children don’t settle well into the new secondary school and this unusual behaviour and moodiness don’t go away or improve markedly, it’s important to have a gentle conversation with your child. ‘I may be wrong, but you don’t seem your normal happy self. Is everything okay at school? Is there anything going on that you don’t like?’ If you are lucky, you might discover what’s not working at the new school. If not, keep an eye on the new behaviour or moodiness. If it continues, contact the home room teacher at the school.
Checklist of signs that a child isn’t settling well into secondary school…
- moodiness, angry outbursts, sadness, becoming withdrawn
- a marked change in behaviour – a normally talkative child becoming reluctant to chat, a happy child withdrawing into herself…
- a child who suddenly wants to spend a lot of time alone (Remember that all teenagers want more privacy. But this is different, this is noticing that your child just isn’t the same person at all and has virtually retreated from life.)
- a child dropping interests and hobbies previously enjoyed – Anna suddenly doesn’t want to be in the school choir, Simon drops out of the cricket team…
- an unwillingness to talk about school – becoming upset if parents press the issue and ask questions – ‘Leave me alone, I’m just busy. I’m fine!’
- a child suddenly losing books or articles of school uniform. Sadly, sometimes this can be a sign of bullying where other children hide your child’s possessions or even damage them.
- a child looking very tired despite the fact that the sleeping routine hasn’t changed – unhappy children often have disrupted sleep
- a sudden increase in stomach aches, headaches and other ailments that can be used as an excuse not to attend school
- changes in eating patterns – loss of appetite, gaining or losing weight
- not wanting to attend the school camp – finding one excuse after the other – ‘It’s a stupid camp. I hate the teachers who are going. We don’t have to go. Lots of students are staying home.’
- a marked change in school results or a normally good student suddenly showing a disinterest in school
What should parents do?
If your child is showing a number of these changes, don’t simply assume it’s a teenage thing. While it may be, it could also be a cry for help. Your child may be suffering from bullying, may be feeling lost with the new academic demands, or be unable to find a good friend at the school. Sometimes even a falling out with a good friend can set in motion an unhappy change in a previously happy child. Act sooner rather than later and contact the school. There is always a solution and staff at the school will always be there to help you and your child.