Remember your own move from primary school to secondary school?
It is one of those life events that most people can recall. You might remember being excited or scared, worried or calm, anxious or happy, or all of those, and more.
In the main though, it’s a fairly manageable period and one that parents can get more emotional about than their children. The purpose of this website is to outline most of the major issues involved, so that the experience can be undertaken with minimal stress – for the whole family!
As well as helping with the successful transition to secondary school, you are helping to give your child the skills to become a well-adjusted young adult, well-placed to deal with challenges and manage themselves into the future.
It’s an exciting time watching your child grow up, move to secondary school and start a new phase of their life. Of course it can be daunting for you, the parent – particularly if this is your oldest child. In this section of the website, we have outlined some important points that will help you to support your child.
Take some time to learn about adolescence; the journey from dependent child to independent young adult can be rough at times. Understanding how your child might be feeling, or their worries and concerns, will make life run much more smoothly for both of you. It will also give your child a sense of being supported. There are many good resources – books, videos, courses and movies – that cover this, and will really help you understand the teenage years better.
Going to secondary school is both exciting and a little scary for a child. They’ll need your support and encouragement to make a successful move.
Put yourself in their shoes. Try and remember what it was like for you before starting secondary school – the nerves, the fear and the sense of going from being a big fish in a small pond to a little fish in a big pond. They need you to believe in them and to give them a sense that they can do it.
Here are a few ways you can do this:
- If you have concerns or are anxious about your child’s transition, talk to someone other than your child about it. Don’t bring up your own worries in front of them – they have their own concerns, and need to know that you believe they can do it! Talk to friends, teachers or staff at the new school about any worries you have. It’s important that you deal with your concerns so that you can present a positive attitude to your child.
- Help your child deal with their anxieties. Listen to their worries; don’t minimise them, but help them to understand that feeling this way is normal and understandable. If they have specific concerns, find some information about these issues.
- Use the summer to build up their confidence. Talk about how exciting it is, help them prepare their study space, bring them with you when you are buying school things and involve them in the preparations.
- It may be that you didn’t have a good time in school or that you struggled with some subjects. Don’t assume that it will be the same for your child.
- Speak positively about school and about learning. Phrases like “no-one in our family was ever good at maths” only serves to discourage your child from trying.
- Remember that all children are different. Some love reading, studying and academic subjects. Others excel at the practical subjects. Neither is right or wrong, and there is room for all.
- If your child has a specific issue such as shyness, a problem with a particular child, fears or phobias, make sure the school knows about these in advance.
- Follow up on any special educational requirements your child may have to make sure the necessary measures are in place.
The basis of all good relationships is good communication. This can be a challenge during the teenage years, as your child learns to stand on their own two feet and move away from being completely dependent on you, their parent.
It is often a challenge for parents to step back from being the one in charge and to become a guide and a mentor. However, it is vitally important that you do this and support your child to make good decisions, seek help when they need it and be able to think for themselves.
Teenagers don’t always make communication easy, and can often appear grumpy or unfriendly, particularly in the evening after school. They’ve had a busy day with both physical and emotional burdens to carry. Getting up earlier than usual, moving classroom throughout the day and carrying a heavy schoolbag can leave them physically exhausted.
Worrying about finding their way around, keeping up with the workload and the challenges of making new friends and settling in can leave them emotionally drained.
- Start the evening off by noticing that they’re home and smiling at them and give them a little time to settle in. This will set the tone for the evening. Be ready to listen, but don’t expect your “how has your day been?” end-of-day question to be answered. Just be there when your child wants to talk, so that if they have a tough day or a worry, they know you are available.
- Create opportunities for you and your child to chat – doing some task together, going for a walk, when you are in the car together, lying beside them on their bed – find a way that works best for both of you. What is important is that they get some uninterrupted time with you. Keep your tone of voice easy and gentle, and remember to smile and make eye contact.
- Listen to what your child is saying – listen to the words, but also be aware of their body language and don’t dismiss anything they say. It may seem a trivial thing to you as an adult, but it could be a big thing to them.
- Sometimes your child will say something that annoys, upsets or bothers you. Try not to react too strongly. Remember, the goal of the conversation is to hear how they feel and to help them find solutions – you don’t want to shut down the chat.
You can help make life easier for both yourself and your child by becoming familiar with the practical side of school. Knowing how things work will give your child peace of mind and increase their confidence. This is also a good time to develop new habits that will make life easier for them.
See if you get a map of the school from their website – even a roughly drawn sketch will help your child become familiar with the layout.
Have a look at a school timetable together. Show them how to read it and understand how each day works. Keep a copy on the kitchen wall or the fridge so you both can get familiar with it.
The school journal is your friend. It should have all the information that you need about the structure and routine of the school: rules, disciplinary issues, who’s who and how to contact them. You should check it every week to monitor your child’s homework and progress. You may also receive communication and notes from teachers through the journal.
Communication with the school:
Increasingly schools are communicating with parents using technology like emails, texts and apps like Compass. It’s simple, efficient and cost effective, and soon all communication may occur through apps and the internet. Familiarise yourself with the school’s preferred method of communicating with you.
Talk to your child about lunches and snacks, and the importance of eating well. A good breakfast is important, as the next snack will not be until the 11am break. That’s a long time to have to think and concentrate if you’re hungry. School canteens are very handy, but it can be expensive if you’re paying for lunch every day. Maybe use it once a week as a treat and bring lunch the other days. Encourage your child to think of food as fuel for their body and involve them in decisions about what they eat. There are lots of resources to support you in this.
Help your child understand time management. Work with them to develop a good routine for the mornings and evenings. Once it becomes second nature it will make life so much simpler all through secondary school.
Help them understand what time they need to get up, how much time they need to get ready and have breakfast, how to be on time for their lift or the bus, and the importance of having everything they need ready the evening before. Help them develop and learn a healthy routine. If the morning is free from stress, it will make the day run much more smoothly.
Have them change out of their uniforms as soon as they get home. This is the easiest way of relaxing and throwing off some of the burden of the day. Every teenager is hungry after school. If it’s not dinnertime, let them have a snack and a chat, and maybe some time outside. A lot of a teenager’s life is spent indoors sitting or lying down, so fresh air and exercise are important.
For first year students, homework should take approximately 90 minutes. In reality it takes longer for many students, mostly because of bad habits and time-wasting rather than workload. A good homework routine learned at the start will really stand to your child as they work their way through secondary school. It will ease the stress and give them free time to do other things. It is truly worth the investment of time and patience to get it right!
A few helpful hints about homework:
- Create a good study space away from the noise and distractions of the household. A small table or desk in the bedroom is sufficient. Make sure there is good light and a comfortable chair. Put a noticeboard on the wall and pin up the timetable there.
- Encourage your child to start their homework as soon as possible once they come home. Have a look at what they need to do and help them create a plan for the evening. Let them take short breaks – five minutes or so – from time to time. A quick walk outside, kicking a ball or getting a drink will help the brain relax and give them energy to continue.
- Start homework with the least favourite subjects. As the evening goes on they will be more tired and will struggle when they’re not interested. Leaving favourite subjects until last helps overcome this.
- Banish the mobile phone to another room! The biggest distraction during homework is their phone, but they need your help with this. If their argument is that they need the phone for the clock or the calculator, then give them a clock and a calculator. Use homework time to charge their devices, and have a five-minute break in the middle of homework when they can check their phone.
- Show them the benefits of getting their homework done in 90 minutes – they’ll be free to chat to friends, go on social media, watch TV or just chill.
Planet Youth is an ongoing project, looking at ways of improving the health and wellbeing of our children. Based on the Icelandic prevention model, we use information from school-based surveys to alert us to areas we can improve.
The first Irish Planet Youth survey was conducted in 2018 and showed that while parents are doing very well here, we could do a bit more in the areas of sleep, screen time, alcohol use and vaping.
A useful guidelines booklet was developed to help with this – most parents in Galway, Mayo and Roscommon receive a copy at the start of first year.
Resilience is the ability to bounce back during or after difficult times, and to return to feeling as good as before. It’s also the ability to adapt to difficult circumstances that you can’t change, and keep on thriving.
Your child needs resilience to navigate life’s ups and downs, so building resilience is an important part of their development. Your child’s resilience can go up and down at different times, and they might be better at bouncing back from some challenges than others.
All teenagers can build resilience by developing attitudes like self-respect, social and organisational skills, and positive thinking habits. A sense of being able to manage themselves gives them the confidence to keep going. Your support is also a key building block for your child’s resilience.
You can’t always prevent your child experiencing problems or tough times, but you can play a big role in helping them build resilience. Your child can also gain strength from other supportive adults like grandparents, aunts, uncles or teachers. Friends and classmates can be great sources of support too.
Your child needs resilience to bounce back from everyday challenges like arguments with friends, disappointing test results or sporting losses.
Some young people face more serious challenges like family breakdown, family illness or death, or bullying. At tough times like these, teenagers really need support. Include them in conversations and let them know what’s happening, but don’t burden them with too much information or with your worries. They’re not small children anymore so they deserve to be kept up to date with relevant information, but they’re not yet adults and will need help to understand what is going on.
Events like these can often have a great effect on the wellbeing of an adolescent, so ongoing chats and easy conversations will help. There are many resources available on how to manage these challenging times. Be sure to let the school know when your child is struggling with events like these, so that support is there too.
Some young people have more challenges than others because of learning difficulties or disabilities, or because they have more anxious personalities. Resilience will help them with these challenges.
Personal values and attitudes for building resilience
Self-respect is a great building block for resilience. It grows out of setting standards for behaviour. If your child has self-respect, they believe that they matter and should be treated respectfully by others. They’re also more likely to protect themselves by avoiding risky behaviour and situations. A strong sense of self-respect will also help your child be less vulnerable to bullies and bullying.
Empathy, respect for others, kindness, fairness, honesty and cooperation are also linked to resilience. This includes showing care and concern for people who need support, accepting people’s differences, being friendly, not mistreating or bullying others, and taking responsibility for your actions. If your child shows these attitudes and behaviours towards others, they are more likely to get a positive response in return. This helps them feel good about themselves. Having a strong, loving relationship with you and staying connected with you are the basis for all these qualities and values in your child. If you show your child love and respect, they’ll be more likely to care for themselves and others.
Social skills are another important building block for resilience. This includes skills for making and keeping friends, resolving conflict, and working well in teams or groups. When your child has good relationships at school and gets involved in community groups, sports teams or other activities, they have more chances to develop connections and a sense of belonging. These social connections also mean that your child will probably have more people they trust when they want to talk about things that worry or upset them.
Develop a habit of positive thinking in order to build resilience. Resilience is about being realistic, thinking rationally, looking on the bright side, finding the positives, expecting things to go well and moving forward, even when things seem bad. When your child is upset, you can help them keep things in perspective by focusing on facts and reality.
You can also help your child understand that a bad thing in one part of their life doesn’t mean everything is bad. For example, if your child gets a poor exam result, you could point out that it won’t stop them from playing weekend sport or going out with friends.
Your child is more likely to feel positive if they can see that difficult times are just a part of life, and that things will get better. It might just take longer than they would like. You can help your child with this by talking about how you or people you know have gone through tough times.
Working with your child on solutions to problems can build resilience too. Having problem-solving strategies can help your child feel that they have the power to deal with difficult situations and get through challenging times.
It’s also important for your child to feel and talk through difficult emotions like anxiety, fear and anger. Facing these complex feelings will help your child grow stronger. With resilience, they will be able to ride out these adolescent ups and downs.
It’s also good for your child to have simple strategies for turning low moods into better ones. Here are some ideas:
- Do things you enjoy or that help you relax, like watching a funny TV show or reading a good book.
- Spend time with friends or supportive people.
- Do something kind for someone else – carry the grocery shopping in from the car, for example.
- Look for the positive or funny side of a difficult situation. For example, a sprained ankle might mean missing sport on the weekend, but it gives you the chance to binge-watch your favourite series.
- Do some physical activity, like playing sport or going for a vigorous walk.
- Relive some good memories by looking through photographs.
You’re a role model for your child. Let them see and hear you being positive and optimistic.
Skills for getting things done
Feeling confident, capable and ready to get things done are big parts of resilience. Important skills in this area are goal-setting, planning, being organised and self-disciplined, being prepared to work hard and being resourceful. You can foster these skills in your child by helping them work out their specific strengths and limitations. Then you can encourage them to set goals that put their strengths into action, and that help them to focus on what they’re good at. There is good information in the Skills for School section of this site.
Supporting your child to take on new or extra responsibilities is a great way to build their confidence and sense of what they can do. Examples might be a leadership role at school or a part-time job when they get older.
Challenges are a normal part of life, and young people have to learn to cope with them by themselves. Let your child have a go at sorting out their own problems and fighting their own battles before you step in. Mistakes and even failures are part of the process. Have them take a look at the Developing Resilience section of the site.
Parenting can be challenging, but you don’t need to go it alone. Working together brings huge rewards, so create networks for yourself for advice, guidance, collaboration and support.
Make a point of getting to know as many of the other parents in the school as you can, particularly the parents of your child’s friends. Chat whenever you meet and exchange telephone numbers. You can share new information, ask for help and offer support yourself. It is very helpful to know how other parents feel about upcoming events and activities – there is great strength in numbers, especially if you have to say “no” to your child.
Parental involvement with school tends to fall away at second level, but schools thrive when parents really get involved and are part of the life of the school.
School induction sessions:
Make sure to go to the school induction day or evening. The information you’ll receive will be hugely valuable, and it’s important to meet staff and know who’s who in the school.
Join the Parents’ Association:
This will keep you in the loop about school activities, parental concerns and new developments.
Attend school events:
You don’t have to go to everything, but it does demonstrate your interest when you attend school activities. When your child sees you making an effort, it gives them a sense of importance. It will also help you feel more comfortable and settled in as a parent.
Parent Teacher meetings:
It’s very important that you attend these meetings. It can take a few hours at secondary school level, so make sure you are prepared. Talk to your child beforehand; ask them how they feel about the subjects or whether they have any concerns. Get a list of the teachers and their subjects. Make notes, as there will be a lot to remember. Jot down any feedback the teacher gives about your child and share this with them when you get home. You’ll also have time to chat with other parents when you are there.
Board of management:
Many schools will have parental representation on their boards of management. If the opportunity arises it’s something you should consider to support the school.
Schools often provide extra activities for first year students to help them settle in. Sometimes these are run at lunchtime by older students. The purpose of these activities is to break the ice, help the students get to know each other, and have a bit of fun.
Outside of class time there are lots of activities such as the ‘Green Team’, debating, art activities, healthy eating and various sports.
Encourage your child to get involved and to try some of these. It puts them in the company of students they might not otherwise meet, it’s a more relaxed environment than class time and will help build their confidence and expose them to new things.
As with every stage of life, there is a financial consideration to secondary school and the teenage years. Some costs are expected, and happen at the start of the school year – uniforms, books, notebooks, school bags, for example. Other expenses such as trips away and social events can sneak up on you when you don’t expect them.
Avail of schemes such as the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance and book rental schemes, and buy books and equipment second-hand. Get advice from other parents about what is needed and what really isn’t.
School uniforms have a considerable cost at the start of the school year. However, in the long term, they are often the cheapest way to dress your child. If you can buy the uniform from school uniform suppliers rather than cheaper department stores, you will get much longer from them. The jumpers, trousers and skirts are made from much sturdier materials and are more durable. Encourage your child to take off their uniform as soon as they get home each day.
Give your child some pocket money and help them understand how to manage it. If you wish, you could increase it when extra chores are done, but be careful not to overdo it. There are chores around the house that children are expected to share without payment. Money management is a skill that needs to be learned, so help your child out with it.
Travel to school can be a challenge. If you live near the school, then walking or cycling will give your child much needed exercise. The school bus is very useful but there is a significant cost. Consider car-pooling with a neighbour, taking turns bringing each other’s children to and from school.
There is a lot of support available for parents, and you can find information online about most things. Some good resources include:
Tusla: Tusla offers family support services and supports Family Resource Centres around the country.
National Parents Council Post-Primary: gives a voice to parents of students in secondary schools in Ireland. Their website has useful information for both parents and students.
Schooldays: provides information to parents on all the practical elements of schooling.
National Council for Curriculum and Assessment: This website gives information on the school curriculum.
Department of Education and Skills: This website lists services and information for parents.
Put yourself in your child’s shoes. Try and remember what it was like for you before starting secondary school – the nerves, the fear and the sense of going from being a big fish in a small pond to a little fish in a big pond.
Being open and empathetic. This will allow your children to feel like they can tell you anything, meaning you can help support them to the best of your ability.
Look out for changes in emotions and behaviour. Have you noticed changes in your child’s sleeping pattern, or are they being a bit more quiet than usual? Subtle changes in emotions and behaviour could be a sign of stress and anxiety.
Make time for a chat. It’s worth having a little chat with them and seeing if there is anything going on that they want to talk to you about. Try to be sensitive to those times of big change, but be careful not to be too overbearing.
Help your child to build problem-solving skills. It can sometimes feel like solving your child’s problems for them is the kindest thing to do. However, settling into secondary school is largely about initiative and independence – let them find their own way.
Increase their independence. It’s important to help them build trust in their own ability to problem-solve by increasing their independence. This could be anything from navigating their way to and from school to managing their own money when it comes to school lunches.
Set time aside to talk about the move. If you can create a space for your child to tell you if there are any problems early on when they start school, then it will make it much easier to continue those conversations in the future.