The transition to high school can be a trying time for kids. Most parents find it hard to stand on the sidelines when their child is anxious. This article has ten tips for how you can help.
Some kids find change difficult and can drag their feet at any new experience. But others find it paralysing. They can get so caught up in the change that they stop enjoying everyday things.
If you have a child moving to high school next year, then there will be lots of change going on in their life. There’s the orientation mornings, the new uniforms to buy, subjects to choose and maybe even some sports trials. But there’s also the finishing things to do.
Leaving primary school involves lots of little milestones. The last concerts, assignments and tests. The last assembly. Graduation and the last day of school. Farewells, writing on shirts, tears and hugs.
For kids who don’t cope well with change, all these little steps keep reminding them that change is coming and they can’t do anything about it.
What makes kids anxious?
Anxiety is one of those things that doesn’t have a single cause. But there are some factors that can make it more likely. According to Beyond Blue, any of these things can make a child will feel anxious about change:
- A family history of anxiety or other mental health issues
- Having a personality that strives for perfectionism
- Being timid or shy
- A low threshold for chaos or change
- A lack of self-esteem
- The need to control everything
- Traumatic experiences in life
- Some health issues, like diabetes or asthma
As I pointed out in my article on anxiety, this is the most common mental health issue for young people. It affects one in 14 teenagers. Major transitions like moving to high school, or leaving school altogether can be tremendously trying for these kids.
Helping an anxious child transition to high school
It can be so hard watching your child fall apart when their friends can’t wait to start this new adventure.
If you’re child is having trouble accepting the move to a new school, or even a part of the same school, then you’ve probably been through this before and have a few ideas in your kitbag.
Moving to high school is one of the biggest changes that young people will face. Particularly if they haven’t had much change in their life and have been at the one school since they got their first backpack.
So here’s some tips to help you though the coming weeks and give you all a chance to enjoy the journey:
- Focus on one day at a time. The more you think about the whole change and the events involved in leaving one school and starting another, the more overwhelming it is. As a family, don’t talk about the change and don’t draw attention to all the steps in between. Just talk about what’s happening today.
- Be understanding, but stay positive. You need to be the one saying, “You’re going to love it there!” Just keep saying it over and over again. Even if you’re not sure, be the optimist in their life.
- Don’t be the one to bring it up. Everyone will be asking “are you looking forward to high school?” which isn’t helpful. So, don’t mention the change unless they do. And ask grandparents, aunties, uncles and anyone else you can influence to back off and leave them alone.
- Remind them of other times they’ve coped with change. It’s a part of life. There’s a good chance your child has been through change before and survived. So, point out those times and what they did to get through them. Remind them of how they felt at the time and what they did about it. Getting a bit of perspective about change can help calm things down.
- Don’t linger at the “last” things if they’re not coping. Others might get hyped up at attending their last concert or parade, but for kids who are anxious, it can be an ordeal. Sneak off and celebrate their bravery with a familiar treat. Stop for a milkshake or ice cream on the way home and tell them what a great job they’re doing.
- Deal with panic. Overthinking fears can lead kids to panic. Arm yourself with some new coping skills to offer when the anxiety gets overwhelming. Think of them as circuit breakers. It might be a scented eye mask, a new playlist, a colouring book or a game on their phone. Distraction is the aim! For more ideas, check out my article on coping skills.
- Reinforce key friendships. Have they got a friend going to their high school, or perhaps they already know someone there? Find a way to keep them connected until the first few weeks of high school have passed. If no one’s going to their high school, keep them in touch with their best friends anyway. They can compare notes about how good or bad their new school is and still be a support for one another.
- Get things ready in secret. Kids who are anxious about the change don’t usually want to think about their uniforms and stationary. Take an “early or late” approach to everything. Either buy things now, or at the last minute. If you buy them now, put them away and don’t pull them out until a day or two before they head off to school. If you need to take uniforms up or label books, do that out of sight.
- Don’t feel sad for them. The anxiety can stop them enjoying the special moments of leaving primary school, or even make them miss out on some events. It’s important as their mum or dad to not dwell on those things. Anxiety is a negative emotion; it clouds their perception. You might have loved your last day at school, but they might find it’s one more day they just can’t get through.
- Don’t beat yourself up. Even if you were the “worst parent in the world”, blaming yourself isn’t going to help your child. Anxiety isn’t contagious, but it can be catching, so stay as calm as you can, be positive about the coming months and just keep doing your best.
If your child is anxious about the move to high school, there’s a fair chance you’re going to see this anxiety rise up throughout their life. If they’re really experiencing difficulty, seek out some help. I’d talk to your family doctor and see if they can recommend a psychologist.
The transition to high school is rarely a smooth one, so strap yourself in, stay positive and enjoy it as best you can!
What are your thoughts on kids coping with the change? Have you got some coping strategies that work well? I’d love you to share them below.