When your child heads to secondary school, you might feel like you're the new kid on the block too. Everything you knew as a primary school parent is about to change as you enter a whole new world.
Here are some top tips from parents about how to navigate the first few months, help you support your child, and get used to a new routine yourself. Don't worry, as some other New Kids On The Block once put it... take things step-by-step and hang tough because you've got the right stuff!
So. Much. Homework!
Not only will your child have to navigate a new building, a whole bunch of new classes and (in most schools) a new fortnightly timetable, but they'll also have what can feel like a mountain of homework to contend with. Help them draw up a homework timetable (download our weekly planner template) and get into a routine. Some kids need downtime when they get home and then work better later in the evening, others are better at focusing on their work first and then having rewards afterwards. Their plan might need a bit of fine tuning over the first few weeks, but once you've worked out (together) what's best for your child, roll with it.
Helping with schoolwork pressure
I’ll be there for you
For many kids, forming new friendships is the thing they worry about most before starting secondary school. As they leave behind their old group, you can reassure them that they don’t need to panic about making friends immediately - they're all in the same boat and their tribe is out there, they just need to find them! Suggest they join one or two clubs as a way of meeting people with similar interests.
Money, money, money!
The uniform, the stationery, the sports equipment, the trips…the list goes on! Be prepared to part with a lot of money now that your child is starting secondary school. Ask other parents which of the ‘essentials’ are indeed, essential. If you don't know anyone with kids already at the school, you could ask a PTA rep. - they'll probably be holding a pre-loved uniform sale before the start of term, so you can save a bit of money and get to know some other parents at the same time.
And if you've already been 'hit up' for a donation to school funds, that's not unusual these days. Just remember these are voluntary contributions – if you can’t afford it right now, don’t feel pressured to set up a standing order, its fine to decline!
Practicalities and list making
Will your child get a locker? How does the lunch system work? Do they need a bus pass? These are the kind of questions that might pop into your head at 4am over the next couple of months. Write them down then check the school’s website, the information pack the school sent you, and that stack of papers you were given at induction meetings. If you can't find the answers, don’t be afraid to ask. The school has welcomed thousands of new parents just like you, and no question is considered daft. Contact the head of Year 7 or the school office - they'll point you in the right direction.
Practise the route
For lots kids, this will be their first time travelling to and from school by themselves, and even if they're looking forward to it, you might not be! Practise their journey together over the holidays until they feel confident, and you're happy they'll be safe. If they're using public transport, sort out a season ticket and make sure they know how to buy tickets (in case they lose it), what platform/side of the road to be on, what time they need to be there, how to read the timetable, what to do if they miss their bus/train or it's cancelled, and how to get help. If they will be walking, find out which route kids typically take (the school should be able to tell you this) and make sure they can cross major roads safely.
Will the paperwork ever stop?
You can expect a LOT of information to come your way over the next year, initially by post, then with your child, by email or possibly apps. If you don't see a flurry of consent forms, school newsletters etc., it might be worth asking! It's best to read everything, if you try skimming through for what’s relevant to you and your child and what isn’t you might miss some key information. Getting on top of your own paperwork and having an easy to use calendar or diary will help keep the whole family on track and sets a good example for your (soon-to-be) teenager!
Independence can be scary
‘Mum, I'm going to hang-out at so-and-so’s house’ - oh those dreaded words are coming! Not having the comfort of knowing the parents of your kid's new friends can be unsettling. Have faith in your child that they are making friends with people you can trust, but tell them how you're feeling. Let them know that while you trust their judgement, you will be asking where they're going and who they're with so that you feel re-assured that they’re happy and safe. If you'd feel more comfortable calling a new friend's parent in advance, don’t let your child’s potential embarrassment put you off! Let them know that if it was the other way round, you’d be more than happy to receive that call.
Get internet savvy
With secondary school comes social media. Love it or loathe it, it's part and parcel of the world we live in. Social media can be really fun and a great way of keeping in contact with your friends, but it can also cause problems. So make sure you’re up-to-date with which sites your child is using and what privacy settings they have set up to keep your child safe.
How to be a tech savvy parent
Are you at home with social media?
Being involved with your child's school life is no less important now that your child is at secondary school than it was throughout primary school. Talk to them about their day, ask about their classes, their friends - show you're interested and keep talking. Think about how you might want to be involved, are you interested in raising funds with the PTA? Or are you keen to have a say on school policies through a Parent Council?
Related article: Getting involved at school
Prepare for the unexpected
The one thing you can be sure of is that the thing that you're worried about... won’t necessarily be the problem. So be prepared that your child might throw something your way that you're not expecting – it’s a hard time for them as they adjust to their new school, and being patient and caring will go a long way to help. If there are a few tantrums and tears (the likes of which you've not seen since Year 2) they'll pass. Whatever happens, your child is about to transform into the young adult they will be, so enjoy it - you've got the best seat in the house!
For more tips and advice to support starting secondary school, visit our Be School Ready pages.