The move to secondary school made easy
With the start of the new academic year, we look at how the move from primary to secondary school presents additional pressures for girls who may already be coping with the challenges of puberty. What can both girls and parents do to make the transition a positive experience?
We're delighted to have Sue Atkins of Positive Parents = Confident Kids contribute to this feature. Sue is a highly experienced and widely published parenting coach (see end).
An uncertain time of transition
This is a time of great change for children and for the family as a whole as this transition is a time of emotional and physical growth, learning and independence. Children naturally have mixed feelings about this change.
"I was scared that I might not make any friends and that I'd get bullied, though I was excited too because it was such a big step in my life."
Chris, aged 11
“Molly was a little nervous and unsure of herself the first few weeks and worried about 'getting things wrong' but she soon settled once she started to make new friends and realised that everyone was in the same boat. But as a parent I felt for her as she had gone from being a big fish in a small familiar pond, to being a small fish in a much larger pond. We talked and mostly listened, and supported her through these changes and she soon found her feet again.”
Mother of Molly, aged 13
Children worry about getting lost, as secondary school is much bigger and looks like a maze of endless corridors with thousands of people. They worry about not fitting in and being teased. They worry about their physical appearance, the amount of homework, their journey – the list is endless.
Particular issues for girls
Girls can be very cliquey and judgemental of each other so it’s important to keep building your daughter’s self esteem and to reassure her that there is nothing wrong with her if she’s feeling excluded from the in crowd or is having difficulty forming special friendships at the beginning of the new school year. It’s very important to keep talking, explaining and listening to your daughter, allowing her to voice and express her fears, anxieties and uncertainties. This will help her to gain clarity and understanding, and to feel supported when she feels heard.
Girls also worry about starting their periods or “coming on” in class, and about who to turn to for help in a new school where they aren’t so familiar with the routines, staff or pastoral teachers. Make sure she has one person she feels happy to ask for help and that she is prepared herself. Talk her through what to do so she feels prepared and confident.
[PoGo's feature next month will deal with this is more detail.]
Nurturing close friendships
If your daughter finds that she is leaving behind some of her close friends as they move on to different schools, one simple way to address the sense of loss is to invite her old friends over for a sleepover during the first few weekends while they are all adjusting to their new surroundings. It bridges the gap of separation, takes off some of the pressure of “trying so hard to make new friends” and helps your daughter to relax, have some fun and be ready to have another go the next week at school.
It also helps them to realise they're all in the same boat and not alone in handling the feelings of change.
Your daughter may discover that her old friends have developed some new friends. Talk her through how she feels and what she can do to make her own individual friends. Explain that friendships are always going through ups and downs and changes. Encourage your daughter to have lots of different friends for different activities, and to have a wide circle of friends both in and outside school.
Suggestions for discussion
If you need a starting point for a conversation around the move to secondary school, try asking your daughter these three questions:
- What is the best thing about your new school?
- What will you miss most about your old school?
- What is the scariest thing about your new school?
Talking through these issues and concerns with your daughter builds her confidence and gives her support in coping with the practical and emotional worries she may be experiencing.
Advice for girls
- Make the most of the school website to find out information, such as important dates, school trips, sports fixtures, homework expectations, clubs, etc.
- If you know a girl who is in a higher year at the school, it's a great idea to talk to her to get ideas on how to cope with the first few weeks.
- Talk with your parent about what the new journey to school will be. If you need a walking companion, can the school put you in touch with another girl in your area?
- People want you to enjoy and succeed in your new school, so never be afraid to ask for help, or talk to someone you trust, like your mum or dad, tutor or pastoral care supporter.
- Your teachers want you to get involved in class discussions. Don't be shy about putting up your hand to answer a question. If you're not sure of something, ask. Chances are, you'll be helping another student who was too scared to ask!
- First impressions last a long time, so make sure yours are good ones – for organisation, presentation, and behaviour! This is your chance to make a fresh start.
- Behave in a way that won't get you noticed too quickly. Give yourself plenty of time to settle in, observe others and learn how things work.
- Make sure you are organised every night before the next school day (books, equipment, sports uniform, money, forms, etc) – then life for everyone is much easier.
- Make notes of things you need to remember, and check them when you get home.
- The school will have a policy about mobile phones. Make sure you know what it is!
When you get to school, look around you and start to notice how everyone else is feeling ... are there some loud and excited girls or boys talking that look like your sort of friend? Are there quieter, gentler children who may be the sort of people you'd like to be friends with?
Just learn to deliberately relax and breathe, deeply and slowly, as this helps you feel more confident – and smile! A smile is a very simple and easy way to look more open and people will be drawn to you.
As you go through the first days and weeks, you'll get to know the people you sit next to. If you're feeling a bit lonely, try to spot others in the class who are a bit quieter – they are probably feeling worse than you! And next day go and sit by them again or join them at break time, and gradually you'll build up a friendship.
Make an effort to start the ball rolling with little comments like, “Gosh it's hard to keep up with all this writing, isn’t it – how are you finding it all?' or ''I'm starving now! Can’t wait for lunch – do you have packed lunches too?' Questions are great conversation openers and they don’t have to be clever, funny or profound!
Joining various clubs and getting involved in activities is also a great way to make new friends. You'll be meeting other children who share the same interests, and you may even surprise yourself at what you enjoy!
Eye contact is where you look at people's eyes as you talk to them – not staring, but just looking into their face. It's a very friendly thing to do, but also quite difficult if you're feeling a bit shy. Try really hard to do this when you talk to people and they will find it easier to talk back.
It’s important to be yourself and to never feel you have to be part of the in crowd. If you're happier in small groups of just one or two others, that's great. Remember that with friendships quality is much, much better than quantity!
There will be plenty of opportunities to make friends at your new school – it's not just about having friends in your class. Strike up a conversation with someone as you wait for the school bus together, or join an after-school activity, such as the football team, drama group or music club.
Remember that you can't – and wouldn't want to – be friends with everyone. A true friend likes you for who you really are, so don't try to force friendships. True friendships happen naturally and don't require you to 'change' your character or opinions to fit in with that person.
Sue Atkins is a former Deputy Head with 22 years' teaching experience, mother to two teenage children and is an NLP Master Practitioner and Trainer, trained by Paul McKenna. She has written many books on self esteem, toddlers and teenagers, and has created a collection of Parenting Made Easy toolkits. She is a judge for the National Family Week "Family of the Year Competition", and is also the author of "Raising Happy Children for Dummies" in the black & yellow series published worldwide. Sue can be contacted at www.positive-parents.com.
Practical advice for girls on how to cope with their periods at school.
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