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How to . . . prepare your child for starting secondary school

Parents can help their kids settle and adapt to the challenging new environment

Starting secondary school is a big milestone for a child. This new beginning can bring a mix of excitement and anxiety for first year students.

Perhaps your child’s friendship group is being sundered by the move to secondary – they are certainly going to be a smaller fish in a bigger pond.

And then there’s a raft of new social codes and unspoken rules to navigate about what’s cool and what’s not. Sixth class was so much easier.

Parents can support their teenager by talking to them about how they feel, says paediatric psychologist Dr Claire Crowe who is a member of the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.


First, you’ll need to get in position to lay the groundwork.

“I would recommend taking opportunities when you are alongside one another, such as walking or driving to bring it up,” says Crowe. “Your child is likely to feel less self-conscious discussing their feelings in the absence of eye contact,” she says.

High-quality connection

Even in this scenario, your teenager might be predisposed to shut down the conversation with a single utterance of, ‘fine’, warns Crowe. But persevere.

“To continue the dialogue, it can be helpful to honestly share how you are feeling as a parent about this momentous life event.”

Are you feeling excited, proud, or nervous about new routines? Then say so.

“This models that it’s okay to talk about your emotions,” she says. “It enables you to connect in a meaningful way that can help open pathways to communication.”

Validate feelings

When they do feel like talking, listen attentively, says Crowe. Don’t rush to reassure them or dismiss their fears.

“Stick with their fears and validate them,” says Crowe. “That can sound like, ‘I hear you say you are dreading that you might be in a different class to your friend group. Of course you want to be with them. You have been together for so long, change can be scary.’”

Your job is to listen and absorb.

Get to know the school

Your child may have questions about break times, PE or other things, get to know the secondary school or ask other parents about the routines so that if your child does have questions, you can help answer them, says Crowe.

Support them to organise what they need, but don’t do it all

If you or your child knows others starting at the school, encourage them to meet up before September if they would like to. It can be helpful to know one or two faces on the first day.

Help your teen to become organised too. That means sorting out books, uniforms and PE gear in good time. Perhaps they need a homework journal or folders for different subjects. Support them to organise what they need, but don’t do it all for them. Giving them ownership of the process helps them to get in the right head space for the transition ahead.

Regulate yourself

How will your child fare in this new environment? It only seems like yesterday that they were starting junior infants. Now they are going to a school where some pupils have full on beards and drive cars.

There will be discos, heartbreaks, and don’t even mention the Leaving Cert. Of course you may have worries about the transition to secondary school too, says Crowe.

“As a parent, it’s important to regulate your emotions around the transition so you can be present to support your young person,” she says.

“Remember, young people are remarkably resilient and moving onto secondary school is a normal part of life and something they will manage.”

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about homes and property, lifestyle, and personal finance