What to Expect When Your Child Starts Secondary School

Many parents are sending their pre-teens off to ‘big school’ this week with that heady mixture of excitement and anxiety as one era ends and another begins.

Our former ‘little ones’ seem to transform into adults overnight as they enter the world of exams, puberty and responsibility. As parents we are sometimes less ready for the change than our offspring.  Here are the top 5 things I didn’t expect about this transition:

1. Say goodbye to the school run

The journey to Secondary school is often the first time children travel alone. This can bring up a whole load of anxieties, so it is important to practice the route several times together and have a back up plan for when things like train delays and bus cancellations occur; would your child know what to do? Make sure your kids are street smart and understand the rules about not talking to strangers or getting into people’s cars. It is important that your child feels confident about traveling alone so it’s about finding a balance between caution and letting-go. Sometimes, it’s a question of easing into things gently, for example, I met my daughter at the train ticket barrier for a few weeks, gradually letting her do more of the journey alone. Be guided by your child, their abilities and personal confidence.

2. You don’t meet other parents

Secondary schools don’t involve parents in the same way as Primary and Junior schools. There is not so much of a playground/school gates ethos (a relief to some!) but it can feel strange never to have met the parents of your child’s new friends. Over time, you will come across each other at school events and I insisted on speaking to the parents of anyone my daughter was staying with, if nothing else, to make sure I knew the parents were happy to have my daughter there!

3. You feel like you don’t know what’s going on

Most Secondary schools try to help your children find their independence and will encourage them to take responsibility for their personal workload and possessions rather than relying on mum and dad. This can be really challenging at first if you are used to knowing your child’s schedule and being the one who reminds them of when PE kits and musical instruments are required. I suggest asking your child for their timetable at the beginning of the term and keeping it in an obvious place so you can quietly monitor everything while they get used to taking responsibility and remembering their things. You may be asked to check and sign homework diaries so this is an opportunity to find out about what they’re learning.

4. They eat whatever they like

Rather than having balanced meals provided by school or lunches packed by you, Secondary school often means that your child will be given a payment card and the freedom to select their own lunch.  They may well go for chips and pizza or things from the drinks and snacks machine more often than you would like, but try not to worry too much. Keep encouraging your child into healthy eating habits and serve great evening meals to make up for it. (Also see our blog about healthy breakfasts here).

5. Mobile phones are their world

If it hasn’t happened already, your pre-teen will at some point ask you for a mobile phone.  I was always happy for my daughter to have one primarily for safety reasons; I liked feeling that I could get hold of her at any time but we laid down some ground rules first such as agreeing to:
  1. A cheap phone model that wouldn’t attract attention i.e. not a smart phone. We chose a model for calls and texts only.
  2.  A pay-as-you-go option of a certain amount per month so she had to learn to limit use.
  3.  Not to hold on to the phone if she was ever challenged for it by muggers or bullies. Her body is more important than her phone.
  4.  Not give her mobile number to anyone I didn’t know.
  5.  Talk to me if she ever received a text or a call that made her uncomfortable or frightened in any way.
  6.  Text me an address or location if ever she needed me to pick her up immediately.
  7.  Texted me the word ‘red’  if she needed me to call her so that she could make an excuse to leave an uncomfortable situation.

Secondary school can seem daunting but I can honestly say, it’s been my favourite part of parenting so far. Good luck to everyone starting their new journey this week!