How to support kids as they enter secondary school

In a week-long series, parent coach and teen mentor Eileen Keane Haly, from Cork, looks at issues facing teenagers, from education to relationships, friendships and more. Today, she looks at the transition from primary to secondary school
How to support kids as they enter secondary school

Eileen Keane Haly.

AS our kids leave 6th class, they have become the ‘big ones’ in the school. The class everyone looks up to. Move on two months and they are about to start out as the ‘smallies’ again in secondary school. It can be a very big, scary change for many. Some kids will take this experience in their stride, for others it may be a little more challenging.

When our kids start something new, have a challenging experience, maybe feel hurt or isolated — they may sometimes take it out on us. They know they are safe to shout and rant at us as we will always love them, who else can they let these frustrations out with?

It is so important for us to understand and to remember that their behaviour usually has nothing to do with us and everything to do with what they are going through. Try not to react unnecessarily, it really does not help.

Most of our kids will struggle during their teenage years, they may feel lonely, not accepted for who they are, they may struggle with peer pressure, friendship issues and many more. They need to know that we are in their corner, we are there for them and we do accept them for who they are.

They need us to listen to them, without immediately reacting — I know this is not easy but it is so important.

“One day your child will make a mistake or a bad choice and run to you instead of away from you. In that moment you will know the immense value of picking and choosing your battles with your child.”

I am going to give you a few suggestions for the coming weeks and months to help with this transition.

Start as you mean to continue

Let your daughter/son prepare their own school bag, gym gear, sports gear the night before school. It does cut out a lot of stress in the mornings and a lot of phone calls from the school saying they forgot their PE gear etc. It really is up to you to ensure they learn how to do this. Get them to put a copy of their timetable wherever they do their homework and every evening they need to go through this to ensure everything is ready for the next day. You may need to help them with this to begin with but do let them off after the first couple of weeks.

Suggest they make their own lunch, some kids will struggle with the smell of tuna, eggs in their school bag, some kids don’t like to eat in front of others and some kids may get slagged about their lunch. Once your child has a good breakfast, a couple of healthy snacks during their school day and a good dinner at home, don’t stress too much about the contents of their lunch.

Be very careful when asking about friends during those first few weeks. All any of our kids want is to feel like they fit in, that they have a few friends. This does not always happen. If you keep asking them ‘did you make any new friends today’, it only emphasises the issue. Give them time to settle in, keep communication open, if you notice they are sad or upset coming out of school — you do need to have a chat with them. If they will not talk openly to you, find someone they can talk to, an older cousin, an aunt, a mentor, anyone that they are comfortable with. Sometimes kids will not want to let us down, they can be embarrassed that things are not going well, but if they are struggling, they do need to talk to someone. It is much easier to address a problem at the beginning rather than allowing that same problem to grow into something much bigger over time.

This transition is a big transition for all of our kids. Try to remember how you felt when you started first year. What did you find difficult, what did you really enjoy, what mattered most to you, a lot has not changed.

Takeaway Tips

Keep an eye on your child’s moods and behaviour, you will notice if they are struggling, talk to them. If they cannot talk to you openly, find someone they can talk to.

Help your child to get into the habit of preparing their school bag the night before, it really does prevent a lot of early morning stress and also teaches them to look after themselves.

Try not to react to rants and raves, it is rarely anything to do with you and all to do with them. Try, instead, to find out what is behind the behaviour, what is going on for them.

Most kids will have ups and downs during their secondary school experience, that is to be expected, but with the right support and open communication at home they will get through this in a more positive way.

Tomorrow in The Echo and on How do we deal with freedom and trust as our kids grow up?

About the author

Eileen Keane Haly is the Director of and author of The Parent. She is a qualified Parent Coach, Kids Confidence Coach and Teenage Mentor, with a background in child psychology. Most of her professional life has been spent gathering information about how our younger generation work, how they deal with difficult situations, how social media is affecting them socially and emotionally, how their school life, social life and home life impact on their everyday experiences.

Eileen has recently published her first parenting book called The Parent which can be purchased on her website You can follow Eileen on her Instagram page jumpstartyourconfidencecork and Facebook page.

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