One of the most difficult periods in any child’s life involves the transition from middle school to high school. As children head off to high school, new worries and fears often accompany them. High schools tend to be substantially larger than middle schools, and expose children to a vast new array of unfamiliar faces and personalities. Children are just as susceptible to fear of change as their adult counterparts, and the prospect of dealing with hundreds of new people can cause a great deal of anxiety. Students’ worries can include being teased or otherwise bullied, the increased difficulty of their schoolwork, and the need to balance academic and social demands.
As a parent, it’s sometimes tempting to believe that you’ve gone through exactly what your child is about to experience. In reality, however, the world and our school systems have changed dramatically in just the last several decades. Today’s young high school students face challenges and obstacles that today’s parents can scarcely imagine. So, how can you best help your child to manage this difficult transition, and how can you assist him or her when problems arise? As a parent, there is a great deal that you can do to help your child:
- One of the most important, of course, involves communication. High school students often become less communicative, may bottle up their emotions, and won’t always tell you everything you need to know to enable you to give them the help they need. Despite that withdrawal, you still need to make the effort to communicate regularly.
- One way to develop and maintain communication is to learn to negotiate. Though your child must still understand your role as the parent, you should encourage him or her to exercise more freedom. The key is to tie that newfound freedom to expanded responsibility.
- Don’t be afraid to negotiate things like chores, curfews, and social outings. When you respect your child’s input, it can instill the confidence needed to ease the high school transition.
- Sit down together and develop a plan to help with balancing all of the competing demands that come with high school life. Studies, sports and other extracurricular activities, social life, rules for driving, and even part-time jobs must all be taken into account. Better planning can ensure that your child is not overwhelmed by these new and increased demands.
Throughout this transition, continue to maintain an open dialogue, renegotiate as needed, and be prepared to work with your child and school officials to make any strategic modifications that may be required. At the same time, be on the alert for problem signs. Sleeplessness or excessive sleep, unnatural levels of anxiety, unusual social withdrawal, attendance issues, or an unexpected deterioration in grades are some of the signs that your child is really struggling and may need other forms of assistance.
When these problems persist, sometimes outside help can be beneficial in assisting your child with the transition. Jennifer Hope, PhD, is a psychologist in Brooklyn who has spent many years working with schools, parents, and students to find solutions for these and other similar issues. Give her a call to discover what she can do for you.