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Secondary school jitters? How parents can help.

Aug 23, 2021

Happy holibobs?
Tis the summer holiday season, although it’s not quite the same, is it? Well, it is the same as last year, just not previous years when we could book holidays abroad with carefree abandonment, with no thought to PCR or lateral flow tests, whether we need to isolate or not, and what traffic light the country we are visiting currently sits on. Ho hum, tis a lighthouse my friends – we can do nothing about the pandemic, nor its ramifications, just the thoughts we bring to it.

I relish the summer holidays, even if they are in a different form again this year. I love my girls being home and they’re old enough now to look after themselves- I don’t need to arrange childcare. I work from home, which does make things easier, although I do allow the guilt to set in because I feel I should be doing more with them. We have some fab days away booked, and trips out, but when I’m working and the girls are at home, I find the screen time creeps in when they’re feeling lazy. I feel like I should be ‘present’ and pulling out the National Trust’s 50 Things to do before you’re 11¾    activity list!

However, as we move into the final few weeks of the holidays, there’s a prevailing sense of doom…

I have one making the transition from primary school to secondary school. It’s a strange time for this age. Whilst they’ve been a big fish in a little pond at primary school and perhaps felt they’re starting to outgrow the place, they’re not exactly ready to move on – to be the little fish in the big pond.

Yes, there’s a certain level of excitement – new friends to make, a new place to explore, new subjects to learn and understand and teachers to meet, but there are also mounting nerves… new friends to make, a new place to explore, new subjects to learn and understand, and a lot more teachers to meet! My youngest is doing her best to harness those fears but what’s important to understand for young people at this stage in their life, is that those thoughts and feelings are completely understandable and valid.

‘We’ve all been there’
Many children will take to the transition like a duck to water. Possibly they can’t wait to leave their primary school. Maybe they’ve a solid confidence and are not phased by change. There’ll be many children though for whom change is a challenge. Being out of their comfort zone can be an issue.

It’s easy to have an attitude of ‘we’ve all been there, you’ll be OK’ or ‘everyone’s in the same boat’ and ‘give it a few weeks and it’ll be like you’ve always been there!’. How do any of those trite sayings actually help though? Do we honestly believe if we trot these lines out, the young person in question who’s currently thinking: ‘I don’t know why I’m feeling anxious/can’t sleep/want to cry most of the time/can’t stop worrying about it/I’m sure I’m the only one who thinks like this/why I am being so pathetic about this…’ are then likely to take on board what you’ve said and then think: ‘Telling me everyone goes through this is really very helpful. I’m fine now’. That change in thought processes is highly unlikely.

They’re much more likely to stop sharing how they’re feeling- if indeed they did at all, and only their moods will be a clue as to what they’re thinking. Perhaps their frustration and anxiety will be displayed through quick eruptions of anger, shouting and disjointed arguments where what they say has no bearing on how they actually feel. It all gets in the way of the true understanding of what’s going on in their head.

What can we do to help?
Empathy. It’s about trying to understand what they’re thinking and feeling and to demonstrate you want to help. To spend time with them – go for a walk, or a kick about at the park, a trip to the local drive-thru, going out for tea and cake - whatever it is that in their world means you've made time for them, that gives you time to chat and for them to open up, and share their thoughts and feelings.

Because we all like to feel understood, that someone has our back, that they’re making the effort to understand our Mental Map – that they’re willing to look at things from the other side of the beach ball - from our perspective the colours are blue and green, not like their side which are yellow and red. To be understood – where we’re coming from and the reason we think the thoughts we do and feel the emotions we do, now that’s empathy and compassion. Stephen Covey put it so well when he said: “When you really listen to another person from their point of view, and reflect back to them that understanding, it’s like giving them emotional oxygen.” 

Because isn’t it often the case that we want to offer our point of view all too quickly, or to fix the situation, without actually letting the other person voice their concerns in their entirety…

It’s important to sit quietly and listen. Not just to hear what they say, but to be truly present and to listen.

Change gets a bad rep
Often, it’s the fear of change when young people are moving schools. They know their surroundings and even if they have outgrown the school, or they are moving schools because they are not happy, there can be fear that it’s a case of jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

Change very often has negative connotations – people are nervous and anxious about changing the status quo, so they’ve a habit of thinking about change negatively.

Is all change good? Not necessarily. Could there be some benefit to change though? Possibly. What are the chances of us seeing the benefits in change if we believe there isn’t any? It’s not very likely… We’re denied access to the benefits that change can offer if we have a habit of thinking it isn’t there – confirmation bias will make sure of that!

If we can understand there are benefits in change, we open our mind to the fantastic opportunities it can offer. By understanding this concept ourselves, we can then help young people to comprehend it to.

For there is no constant in life but change – a lesson I learnt at a very young age and one that has helped me be resilient and much more open to all that life can throw at us and offer us. It’s a valuable lesson for all.

Starting a new school can feel scary and a young person might feel unsure, insecure, vulnerable and worried. But knowing that they are being listened to and that there is empathy, goes a long way to giving them a solid foundation to embrace that change, and perhaps feeling more open-minded to the benefit of change.

As the author C. JoyBell C. said: “The only way that we can live, is if we grow. The only way that we can grow is if we change. The only way that we can change is if we learn. The only way we can learn is if we are exposed. And the only way that we can become exposed is if we throw ourselves out into the open. Do it. Throw yourself.”

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