If I’d written this post two months ago, it would have been a totally different beast. My 12 year old daughter started secondary school for the first time, and it looked like she was totally ready for it.
Having positively sailed through primary school and enjoyed every single minute of it, Rach had charmed all her teachers and excelled in virtually everything she’d done in ‘little’ school. And being the eldest in our house, she was absolutely ready to move on to the next level. We knew that her confidence and smartness meant that she’d hit the ground running in secondary school, but we were also a little worried about the challenges she’d face along the way.
The first month went incredibly smoothly. Rach would come home from school buzzing and fizzing about everything that had happened. She gave us inane detail about every interaction she had. Who she was making friends with. Which teachers she liked and which ones intimidated her a little. There was a period of adjustment from her old school lunches to what she’d need to get through a day of secondary school. But she overcame and she’s even – for a fussy eater – trying the chicken curry on a Friday. Wow.
The crash and burn
Of course, we didn’t expect this to last forever. It’s kind of why I didn’t write this post back in September or October. After a couple of months of waking an hour earlier than she was used to and working harder on homeworks than she’d ever done before, Rachel found herself with less free time and a lot more pressure. And she started to become disorganised as she tried to maintain her previous amount of “me time”, which meant organisation fell by the wayside.
I can’t count the number of times she had last minute panic attacks about lost homework books, assignments that had to be completed the very next day and other freakout moments.
To make matters worse, she started to have some problems with a long-time friend who started making life difficult for her in the new school. We’d preempted this during the summer, knowing that the friend in question would tend to humiliate Rach whenever she was trying to impress other people. Things even turned a little violent for a while when the girl aimed a few slaps at her. So we cautioned Rach to put a bit of distance between her and her friend, if anything just to establish that abusive behaviour wasn’t okay. Situation is ongoing – the two drift in and out of friendship, and I expect this will continue until they settle into different cliques.
How do you teach a child to cope with secondary school?
The end result of the first few months was that our confident little girl became lethargic, disheartened and grumpy. There were many tears, and sometimes we reacted badly, lecturing her when she probably needed a little sensitivity. I guess we’re not as mature as we like to think sometimes.
So this week we’ve tried to do something a little different. Rather than allow the awful cycle of drama to continue, we decided to be adults about it and try to help Rach get organised. She’s a kid. She’s having trouble adapting. Instead of nagging her constantly, maybe it was our responsibility to sit down with her and work out how she could keep up with her responsibilities. So, here’s what we did:
- Explained that life is changing and responsibilities take priority: Rach seemed to be resisting her new school responsibilities. Organising her schoolbag at the last minute and letting deadlines slip until crisis point, she needed to understand that these were her responsibilities. And she needed to give them priority and not be reminded or nagged by us.
- Helped her understand her after-school routine: We sat down for a non-emotional conversation with Rachel. And we basically laid out the time she returns from school to her weekday bedtime, which amounted to roughly five hours. We showed her that her homework times were probably 1-1.5 hours of that. We agreed that dinner was a maximum of 30 minutes because it’s been taking her upwards of an hour to finish dinner lately.
- Breaking down the small things into manageable chunks: As with dinner, we had a look at the little places where Rachel was losing time – typically procastrinating and grumbling about simple chores. 20 minutes of moaning for 5 minutes of work.So we broke down the parts of her morning and evening routine to show her that she could save time by just getting small stuff done.
- Approaching it as mentoring rather than lecturing: Nobody – least of all an adolescent with an ‘I know everything already’ mentality – likes being told what to do. So instead of taking an authoritarian stance, we started by noting that she was having some trouble with her new routine and that we were going to sit down and help her work things out. The conversation went much better than past attempts. We’re hoping that having talked this out, she’ll approach her responsibilities a little more pragmatically.
Has anyone else had a struggle with a child transitioning to the next stage of their educational life? How did you approach it?