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Who’s a bit nervous about their kids going to high school?

I’ve had a few conversations lately with kids who are just about to start high school and their parents. It can be a nervous time, can’t it? I remember my own start to high school. For the 6 months or so leading up to it I was terrified, anxious and tearful. High school itself was a breeze compared to the lead up. I thought it timely to share a few thoughts that might help parents who have kids starting high school in the coming week.

Be aware of what is your own anxiety- your own “stuff”

If you’re feeling worried about your child take a moment to consider where this worry is coming from. What was your own experience of high school? If you struggled chances are you could be carrying an assumption that your child will experience the same things. This may or may not happen (and we will consider that in a minute) but it can be really useful to remind ourselves that OUR CHILDREN ARE NOT US. If you did have a particularly awful time when you were in high school you may want to look back on that time and consider all the factors that made it awful. Your child is different, they have different circumstances, live in a different time and have different parents than you did.

Try not to share too much (if any) of your worry with your kids

In the animal world, when there is a group of animals quietly going about their business and one animal startles or looks alert, the other animals will look first to that animal and assess the risk by that (often dominant) animal’s behaviour. This is mammal behaviour- we are also mammals and a lot of our social behaviour is similar. Take away point, if you seem worried, your kids will assess that there IS something fearful ahead.

If you’re a bit worried, ask yourself what worried behaviour you are doing that might show this. This doesn’t only include talking about your worries but could include things like:

  • Reassuring your child more than is necessary that they will be ok

  • Fussing excessively over high school preparations like shopping and packing

  • Looking worried (it’s actually useful to pay attention from time to time what your face is doing)

  • Whatever other behaviour you do when you are worried- we’ve each got our quirks and our kids probably know when we are worried before we do- so it’s worth raising our awareness of this.

Let your child talk about how they are feeling

Sounds obvious right? But what are the things we do that stop our kids being able to talk to us? A couple of things that come to mind are:

  • Letting their feelings upset us. Sometimes this impossible not to do- I have kids and there are some things I find near impossible not to react emotionally to. However a good practice when your kids are talking is to be aware of what you are feeling (Sadness? Worry? Fear? Helplessness?) but then shift those feeling somewhere else for the time being. You can feel and express that stuff later on but not now, not when it will get in the way of your child freely talking to you.

  • Needing to fix things. Nothing stops a person talking quite like someone who has to have an answer or a solution to everything. Advice giving is one of the quickest ways to shut a person down. Sure, there may come a time when your child will need direction from you or for you to take action on something, but if they are having worries or feeling anxious about something like the start of high school really the most comforting thing for them will to be heard and understood. So, ask how they are feeling, be quiet and hear what they have to say. ONLY open your mouth to speak if it’s to reflect back what you’ve understood them to be feeling e.g. “It sounds like you’re a bit worried that your best friend will make new friends and leave you behind” or “You’re scared about getting lost”.

Ask questions that tap into your kids own answers to problems and concerns

First, don’t forget, not every worry or feeling needs an answer or solution- sometimes just being heard and cared for is enough. But if there is a problem or potential problem it is really good practice to first encourage kids to come up with their own answer. When I’m working with kids and teenagers I generally do this and nearly every time I am astounded by the sensible, creative, and all round good answers I’ve heard. Some examples might be:

  • “What do you think the school has planned to help kids not get lost?”

  • “What do you think you would need to do if your friend did start making other friends?”

  • “How do kids make new friends?”

  • “What do you think you can do if the school work feels a bit hard?”.

These kinds of conversations can do wonders to increase and utilise a child's sense of confidence, knowledge and ability.

Keep an eye out for the stuff that you do need to help with

Maybe you will need to speak to teachers about special needs or get your tiger-parent on to deal with bullying (disclaimer- beginning with fully utilising and working with school protocols). Perhaps your child will struggle socially and could do with a hand from you and others such as counsellors. Maybe they will need some help to manage their anxiety (Give me a call!). But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. While there may be all kinds of difficulties ahead, there’s every chance that the joys will outnumber the problems and that all the worry was for nothing.

Kelly Bronsveld is a warm and professional counsellor on Sydney's Northern Beaches. For more information, help or advice call 0425 240 433.

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