The purpose of this blog is to give you a few pointers to help you support your child’s move to the more adult environment of senior/secondary school. Before we begin, it is helpful to remember that the developmental drive of this age group is to move from being dependent children to becoming fully independent adults – ideally by the time they hit 18. This might seem like an age away right now, but these next few years will pass incredibly quickly, and we do them a gross disservice if we don’t get them ready to leave home when the time comes.
They are also on a mission to find their adult identity, so they are likely to start experimenting with more adult looks and activities and to take their lead from the older pupils on site. Chances are they won’t want you walking them into school anymore and would much rather you wait in the car at the end of the day. Senior school is their patch. They want to know that we still love them and are interested in their world, but they really do not want us interfering with their school lives unless, of course, they ask us to.
So, this next stage is all about setting them up to be successful and then letting them take ever increasing responsibility for themselves, their possessions, their learning, and their friendships.
We must remember that for some of them they will have no conscious memory of making friends and might therefore feel anxious about meeting new people and joining new groups . It can be helpful to explain that every single group from their classes to sports teams and orchestras will have to go through what is known as a group process. Schools are aware of how this works and set up induction programmes and bonding activities to help pupils move through it as quickly as possible.
The first stage of the group process is the Forming Stage which is easy because everyone tends to be nice and polite as they suss each other out.
At some point (usually around half term time) they will go through the Storming Stage which can be unsettling because it is the power struggle that determines the hierarchy of the group. Most of them will be fine but some will find it upsetting. If your child is one of those who finds conflict difficult, then expect a bit of a wobble at this stage. We can support them by staying calm, being available to listen and then, when they are calm, we can explain that it is perfectly normal to have a period of insecurity before the group finds its natural order. In other words, “I know this feels difficult right now, but it will pass”.
Next, the group will enter the Norming Stage which is when everyone has found their place in the group and feels settled. From here on in it is only a question of time before they enter the final, Performing Stage which is when they are ready to work together as a team rather than a collection of individuals.
It is worth noting that if the group changes in any way they will have to go through the whole group process all over again, which explains why most schools are reluctant to let pupils change houses, classes, or tutor groups unless it is really necessary.
In addition to the group process, we must also remember that teenagers are trying to find their identity and friends are a large part of that. Finding the ones that feel right requires experimentation which means there will be a few fallouts over the next few years. It is hard for us parents to watch but it is very important that we don’t get involved – trying to micromanage their relationships is deeply unhelpful. Instead, recognise that they are going to have moments of upset and that the most helpful thing you can do is to be there to listen & then empower them to come up with their own solutions.
What we tend to do as parents, & we do it because we love them, is we try to fix their problems for them. However, when we do this, we give them the message – “I don’t think you can do this for yourself so I’m going to do it for you”, which is unlikely to help them feel competent or confident.
If they are anxious about making new friends or struggling socially, perhaps it is because their communication skills need a little work. Encourage them to get involved in projects & clubs, invite other families over for a meal and mix up the seating plan so that they get used to talking across the generations, encourage them to make their own phone calls, discuss the difference between face to face and remote communication and why we need to be able to do both, have regular family meals and if none of this helps, consider getting outside help because social skills are worth developing.
The top four concerns for children moving to senior school are making friends, getting lost, being around older pupils and not managing the workload. Reassure them that the staff in senior schools are there to help and have lots of experience in settling new pupils. Try to find out what they will do in the first few days which will help them to integrate and find their way around. Reassure them that the staff will not be giving them work that they don’t think they can manage. Remind them that all the older pupils were beginners once too and are usually very happy to help if they see a younger pupil struggling. That said, they are really more interested in their own friends than the newbies arriving below them. Make sure they know where they can find support ie the school nurse, counsellor, class teachers, tutors, houseparents and pastoral leaders.
Often when we feel anxious, we focus on small parts of the bigger problem – if we can address some of these lower level concerns we will make the whole experience less daunting.
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