10 tips for parents of children starting secondary school
Keep some perspective – John Lennon’s report said he was ‘on the road to failure’
Back to school? Try to listen to your children but avoid grilling them
Establish a routine
Every family is different so do what suits your circumstances in establishing a workable pattern around breakfast and getting out to school on time; when and where homework is done; the evening meal; downtime, screen-free time and bedtime. This applies to the weekend too when they will have homework, unlike in most primary schools.
Help them organise themselves
Being in the right place, at the right time, with the right books or gear, can be quite a challenge during the first few weeks. Supervise the packing of the school bag the night before, with a copy of their timetable at hand.
Take an interest in homework
While developing independent study habits is the aim, every child will be different in the level of support and persuasion they need to get their homework done. It’s advisable, at the start anyway, to check their homework journal each night and make sure they know what work they need to have done by when. Even if getting stuck into their text books is not your style, conversations about what they’re learning helps to keep you in touch and reinforces it for them.
Be there to listen
Keep the channels of communication open but avoid grilling them on every aspect of their first few days – no matter how keen you are to know how they got on. They may be too exhausted to talk, so don’t take crankiness as a sign that things aren’t going well.
“Let your children know you are there for them,” advises the president of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors, Betty McLaughlin. “If you listen to them and respect their decisions, they will be more open to accepting your advice.”
Stock up on food
They need a nutritious breakfast and more food than they may think for both break times to sustain them through what is a much longer and more demanding school day.
Build a relationship with the school
Take every opportunity to attend information evenings, parent-teacher meetings, social events and get involved with the parents’ association. “A lot of change that happens in schools actually comes through the parents’ associations,” says Paul Byrne,
president of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals.
Redraw parental boundaries
This is another big step on a child’s journey from parental dependence to independence, so it’s time to make sure you are letting go a bit more. Accept that the influence of peers is going to become much more dominant and that your position as parents on anything from screen time and haircuts to discos and city-centre excursions will be challenged. Let them make their case and then explain the reasons for your “yes” or your “no”
– and remember that a playing-for-time “maybe” will be taken as a “yes”.
Get to know their friends
Making clear their friends are welcome in your house is a great way to get to know who your child is hanging around with and to glean a little information about what’s going on. However, as a parent-free gaff will be the venue of choice for after-school gatherings, lay down some ground rules if you are both out working all day.
While you may want your child to take every opportunity that extra-curricular activities offer, do make sure they are not doing too much. They still need unstructured time to do what they want.
Keep it in perspective
Sometimes parents think school is everything and nothing matters more than high grades, says John Stevenson, author of
Moving Up! From Primary to Post-Primary, a Parents’ Roadmap. But learning is life-long now, he points out, and a child’s health – mental and physical – must always come first.
There is an “artificiality” about school, he adds, and the children who shine in this environment are not always the ones who turn out to be outstanding people – you only have to look at the book Could do Better: School Reports of the Great and the Good, edited by Catherine Hurley, to confirm that.
Of Winston Churchill, it was said: “He is so regular in his irregularity that I really don’t know what to do”; of John Lennon: “Certainly on the road to failure . . . hopeless . . . rather a clown in class . . . wasting other pupils’ time” and of Gary Lineker: “He must devote less of his time to sport if he wants to be a success.”