Leaving primary school is quite a milestone in a child’s life. In this article, Mark Chester, our Parent Support Manager, gives three tips to help parents prepare for their child’s move from primary to secondary school.

It took weeks to teach my daughter to ride her bike without stabilisers.

I ran alongside, holding the saddle, gradually letting go and giving plenty of reassurance. There were many accidents and a few tears, but we got there in the end. When it came to my son’s turn he insisted that I let go before he even had a first attempt at balancing. I warned him what could happen, but he was sure. ‘Just let me try,’ he said. And off he sailed, like a duck to water. He just needed a little praise and encouragement.

Our children starting secondary school can be similar. Some will need what feels like intensive support. For others it will be relatively plain sailing. And then there’s you! You may feel you are struggling more than they are. Perhaps it seems like your ‘baby’ is taking another giant leap towards independence, and your mind is filled to overflowing with thoughts of what could go wrong.

These are my three top tips for preparing and looking after yourself when your child moves from primary to secondary school.

  1. Expect change. Perhaps you’ve been involved in your child’s primary school – on the Parent Teacher Association, volunteering on school trips or making cakes for bake sales. You’ll know their teachers, their friends and their friends’ parents. At secondary school they will have many teachers and friends you don’t know. You may never get to meet their friends’ parents. And any attempts you make to get involved in the life of the school may embarrass your child. Perhaps you feel like you are mourning the loss of primary school culture and your child may be feeling the same, so acknowledge any sadness and together try to develop a sense of excitement about the future.
  2. Keep your imagination on a short lead. It’s easy to allow our own anxieties to dominate our thoughts about what our children may be feeling. Rather than make assumptions, it’s better to ask. I’m not naïve; I know the automatic answer to ‘how are you feeling about high school?’ could be ‘fine’. So try asking different, less direct, questions, such as: What are you excited about most? What’s your biggest worry? You may find that their answers alleviate some of your own worries, and working together to address any concerns they do have may make you both feel better.
  3. Remember this: your child still needs you! Your child may become more distant, answers to questions will likely become vague and they will probably stop greeting you quite so affectionately! Even with the most communicative child, you may feel like your relationship is not quite the same. They seem to be gaining independence fast. But don’t despair. Your child still needs you. Heart-to-hearts may be rare, but they will still value you being available, interested and setting some boundaries – although it may be many years before they show their appreciation!

The transition from primary school to secondary school is a big step in both your child’s and your life! But remember that it’s okay for our children to know that we struggle too, and by being open and honest with them, we are keeping the lines of communication open. You can navigate this together.

If you’d like more help on parenting teenagers, take a look at Parentalk: The Teenage Years, or our short video series, How to Help Your Teen.

Mark Chester

About the author

Mark Chester is the Parent Support Manager at Care for the Family. He is the founder of Who Let The Dads Out? and has been writing and speaking about fatherhood for over 20 years. He has two grown-up children.

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