Whether your child is moving up from primary to secondary in the same school or starting a new school altogether, entering Year 7 can be both a fun and daunting experience: New teachers, subjects and friends; more independence and responsibility; a heavier workload – not to mention changing bodies and fluctuating hormones!
Here are some tips to help you support your child through this exciting period of change.
Common fears and worries:
The three principal concerns of students entering Year 7 are:
- Friendships – shyness, new friends, not fitting in, bullying
- Organisation – homework, finding their way around the school, managing time
- Stress – being overwhelmed, unable to cope, fear of unknown
What changes can you expect?
- Structure of the school day: Your child will no longer have one main teacher but a different teacher for each subject. They will have to find their way around the school for different lessons and manage their timetable.
- Increase in homework – expect approximately 30-40 minutes a night.
- Bodily changes: This is the age many children are starting or going through puberty. Changing hormones can contribute to mood swings and strong emotions.
- Friendship changes: Even if your child is continuing in their current school, there will be new students joining. There will be new friendships, cliques and peer groups to navigate.
- Stress levels may increase: Your child may feel overwhelmed as they deal with change and move out of their comfort zone. This is normal for the first few weeks.
What can you do to help?
Be positive and reassuring
Now is not the time to rattle off anecdotes about your worst high school experiences. Focus on the positive aspects. Reassure your child that both you and the teachers are there to support them. Teachers do not just abandon Year 7s in the first week and expect them to navigate the school and manage their timetables immediately. They will help them transition and break them in gently.
Stay on top of school communications
Your child’s school will send you information about orientation days, uniform shop opening hours, stationery requirements, class information, term dates and so much more. Keep and read everything sent to you by the school. It’s a good idea to keep a special folder (physical and/or electronic) where everything is in one place. This will save you hunting through drawers and emails to locate an important piece of information.
- Mark up school uniform shop opening hours, text book collection dates etc on your calendar.
- Put school contact numbers and email addresses into your phone.
- If your child’s school has a parent’s portal be sure to bookmark it and check in regularly.
- Make a note of your child’s pastoral care teacher and year level coordinator.
- Find out about the school canteen, buses, after-school library hours etc, where applicable.
Attend High School Orientation Day
Most schools have an orientation day for students before the start of Term 1. Make sure you and your child attend it. This is an opportunity to meet the teachers, get a feel for the school and be reassured. The more your child can find out about their school and what to expect, the better. Forewarned is forearmed.
This may sound obvious but do ensure your child has everything they will need for the start of term, including:
- Text books (check book list)
- Devices – laptop, mobile phone etc, where applicable
- Uniform (check it still fits after Christmas growth spurt!) – don’t forget sports uniform
- School bag, lunch box, drinks bottle etc
- Make sure school medical forms are completed and the school is aware of any medical conditions or allergies your child may have.
- Access details to school student portal, if applicable
Plan/practice the school journey
Will your child be walking or cycling to school or taking public transport? If so, make sure they have a few practice runs. Ideally, find a friend who will be attending the same school to do this with them, so they have a ‘buddy’ when they do it for real. If your child will be cycling, find out where they can leave and secure their bike at school.
Find a friend
Identify other children you know who will be starting the same High School as your child and try to arrange a few play dates in the school holidays beforehand. Develop relationships with parents of your child’s peers, where possible – this will be invaluable for support and information in the future.
Be there after school – first week
If at all possible, arrange to be at home for your child after school during their first High School week, while they settle in. If work commitments prevent this, try to have a family member (eg grandparent, auntie) or trusted family friend there for them.
Homework is an unavoidable and non-negotiable part of High School – and one of the biggest areas of concern for many children entering Year 7. If your child has struggled with homework in the past, or simply managed to avoid doing it, this is where they may become unstuck.
What to expect
In Primary School your child’s class teacher would usually assign homework to be completed by a specific day each week. In High School, each of your child’s subject teachers may set homework tasks, all with different submission dates.
A Year 7 child should expect to spend 30 to 40 minutes a night doing homework – no more than an hour.
How you can help
Organisation is key here:
- Make sure you have a copy of your child’s homework timetable. This may be a printed sheet, physical diary or computer diary. Ask to see your child’s homework when completed and sign it.
- Provide a calm, quiet place for your child to work. This may be their bedroom, on the family dining table or in your home office – just not in front of the TV … on their lap.
- Ensure your child has all the correct stationery and tools they require, eg calculators, highlighters, dictionary etc.
- Try and set a regular time for homework each night and stick to it. This will help get your child into good habits from the outset.
- Be available and present, without hovering and looking over their shoulder. Children often feel comforted knowing someone is close. You might prepare dinner while they are doing homework at the breakfast bar or spend 30 minutes at the table with them doing your own paperwork while they do theirs.
- Do not do their homework for them. If they get stuck or need help, by all means give them a clue or prompt or talk things through with them but don’t take over and complete their tasks. If they are just ‘not getting it’ or are unable to finish, email their subject teacher and let them know what’s going on.
- Avoid having devices in the bedroom. Your child may need to use their laptop to write an essay in the quiet of their own room but, where possible, keep internet-connected devices in a place where you can see them and out of the bedroom.
Stress and anxiety
Mission Australia’s 2020 Youth Survey revealed that 34% of young people aged 15-19 were worried about their mental health. ‘Coping with stress’ came top of the list of all teenage concerns in this study.
It’s normal for children to feel overwhelmed or weepy during the first few weeks of school but if their anxiety continues, your first point of call should be your GP for a quick check over.
How you can help your child manage stress
Restrict use of electronic devices
Yes, this comes up time after time in King’s blogs but overuse of social media, online gaming etc is possibly the biggest contributor to the sharp rise in teenage mental health issues over the last 10 years. Your child does not need to be in touch with their friends constantly every evening on SnapChat. Nor do they benefit from immersing themselves in Fortnite or TikTok on a school night.
Ensure your child gets some exercise
Physical exercise is proven to improve mental health. It releases endorphins and serotonin that help regulate mood, increase mental energy and relieve stress. Sport activities help your child feel connected and improve their social skills. But even if it’s just a walk around the block, getting some fresh air and moving after school each evening will have a positive effect on your child’s stress levels and wellbeing. It’s also a great opportunity to hang out with them and be available should they need to talk. Shoot some hoops, take a walk by the beach or kick a ball together.
Help your child get a decent night’s sleep
Adolescents need a minimum of nine hours’ sleep a night. Many struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep. In the first couple of weeks of High School, it is normal for kids’ sleeping patterns to go out of whack but sustained sleep deprivation will severely impact your child’s focus, memory and concentration.
- Keep internet-connected devices out of the bedroom.
Your child needs a decent night’s sleep without their phone beeping notifications at them. They need to wind down and mentally switch off. (See our blog, Are Smartphones To Blame for iGen’s Unhappiness?)
- Give your child a regular alarm clock rather than let them use their phone alarm.
- Use an MP3 player to listen to downloaded music in the bedroom rather than live-streaming Spotify.
- Stop all screen use at least an hour before bed time.
- Stick to a regular sleep routine.
- Make sure your child gets fresh air and exercise after school each day.
- Avoid food and caffeine at least two hours before bed time.
- Listen to calming music (not thrash metal!) before bed.
- Try a warm bath and/or hot milky drink.
- Spend some time reading before bed.
- Dim the lights an hour before bed time.
- Keep internet-connected devices out of the bedroom.
What we put into our bodies impacts our mind as well as our body. Food is fuel and if your child is running on empty or on rubbish, they are not going to feel or perform well.
- Make sure your child has a healthy breakfast before school. Aim for good carbs with some protein so they feel fuller for longer, eg egg and wholegrain toast, granola with yoghurt, fruit toast with peanut butter. Avoid sugary cereals and white bread/jam which will give them an early sugar spike but leave them falling flat mid-morning
- Don’t let them skip meals – offer smoothies or soup if they really can’t face food.
- Avoid junk food and fizzy, sugary drinks.
- Ensure your child has lots of fruit and water during the day.
- Fill the fridge with healthy snacks. Good options are combinations of protein and carbohydrates, eg cheese and fruit, hummus and vegetable sticks.
- Provide a healthy afternoon tea after school (most teenagers are starving when they get home).
- Insist your child joins the family for dinner, even if they just sit with you and don’t eat much. Try and keep them to regular meal times.
In our busy, over-scheduled world, it’s easy to forget how to relax. Downtime is important for your child’s wellbeing. It’s important to daydream, get bored or just lie on the bed staring at the ceiling for 10 minutes! Encourage your child to take regular time out to doodle, play with Lego, do a jigsaw, weave loom bands, rock back and forth on a swing, read, sit outside and watch the world go by etc. Model this behaviour yourself – if they see you constantly rushing about they will think this is normal! Apps and websites that may help your child learn to relax:
Prepare for the ‘what ifs’
Assure your child that no matter how bad things might be, they can always talk to you, that you will support them and that you can work out problems together.
Parenting and education expert, Sharon Witt, suggests working on a ‘script’ with your child to help them prepare for eventualities, e.g.
- What do you do if you forget to do your homework?
- What do you do if you forget your lunch money?
- What do you do if someone is saying mean things about you online?
- What do you do if you don’t understand what you have been taught?
Be engaged in your child’s High School journey.
- Attend parent information evenings and parent teacher interviews
Find out what’s going on at school and get a teacher’s perspective on your child.
- Keep lines of communication open with your child
Teenagers may not always be the most communicative of creatures but be available for your child and ready to listen. Even if they don’t talk, kids like to know you’re present. It can be comforting to just ‘hang out’ with you as you peel potatoes together or potter round the shops. Boys, especially, tend to open up while engaged in another activity (eg doing the washing up, shooting hoops), according to psychologist and parent educator, Steve Biddulph.
- Stay involved with the school
Keep teachers informed and communicate any concerns with them. Teachers can only work with what they know about your child.
- Work in partnership with your child’s teachers
Don’t bad mouth them. They want the best outcomes for your child as well.
- Speak to other parents
If your school has year level Facebook groups for parents, make sure you join them to keep in the loop.
- Use the school’s parent portal (if applicable) and/or website to stay on top of information and notices.