Time flies. My son Bryce is starting high school. It is hard to believe since I still remember the first day of kindergarten so vividly. He is now 14 years old and a freshman in high school. I am proud and nervous at the same time. High school sounds so grown up. I am excited for Bryce, and he is excited as well, but he is also anxious about what to expect now that he is a freshman.
High school brings added pressure, more difficult classes, increased social demands, concerns about the future, and increased responsibilities. These changes can be scary for anyone, but even more so for a child like Bryce – a child with mental illness such as ADHD, depression, or anxiety, or a developmental or learning disorder like autism.
Bryce struggles in school, and even with supports, school does not come easily for him. As a parent, I want my children to be happy and feel confident. Bryce attends The Frost School, a non-public therapeutic day school that is part of the Sheppard Pratt Health System. He has been at Frost since 4th grade. Staying at the same school somewhat eases his transition to high school, but there are still larger classes, new teachers, increased expectations, and unknown variables that increase Bryce’s anxiety and make it impossible to get him up in the morning and ready for school.
Knowing that starting high school would cause added stress or anxiety in his life allowed me the opportunity to prepare Bryce for the challenges he would face. It may not be possible to anticipate everything, but there are things you too can do to ease your child’s fears and guide them during this transition.
Here are some tips that I have found useful:
- Acknowledge your child’s concerns: Let your child know that it is normal and OK to be nervous, scared, or anxious when starting a new school, especially high school. It is especially common to feel this way if school has already been challenging. Assure them you are by their side and are available to help if they need you. Have resources available for your child if they want them, such as a tutor, counselor, or a list of coping skills that have helped them in the past.
- Schedule a meeting and visit the school: Most administrators work 12 months out of the year and are available during the summer to meet with you. Meeting with the school administrators or guidance counselor prior to the start of school allows your child to see the school, get to know some familiar faces, and get comfortable with the layout of the school. This can help lessen some anxieties regarding the unknown, answer any questions they may have about their schedule or teachers, and help relax them about what to expect. You can also discuss with the administrators concerns you have about support they need and will receive.
- Gather information: Talk to friends, family members, neighbors, teachers – anyone you can – about the school. The more information you have, the fewer unknowns there will be. Asking questions from those that have already been to high school can help calm fears about what high school is like. Gather information about classes, teachers, extracurricular activities – anything you or your child wants to know.
- Practice and prepare: Having everything ready in advance will make the days leading up to school less stressful. Buy school supplies, pick out what to wear, pack lunch ahead of time, etc. In addition to organizing the logistics, you can also practice for scenarios that can happen to help build confidence and lessen anxieties your child may have about school. You can role-play situations with your child such as answering questions in class, approaching new friends, bullying, or dating.
- Be supportive: Remind your child how amazing they are and how far they have come. Make a list of their strengths, how much they have already accomplished, and what they hope to achieve in high school. When they are struggling, come back to this list and review it with them. Remember to encourage them throughout the year for their behavior and their resilience. Reward and praise their effort and courage.
- Plan for the future: There may be added anxiety for high school because it is the beginning of the end of school – after high school, there is an expectation of college or a job. Discuss options with your child and what they want and see for their future. It does not have to be decided all at once or set in stone, but begin to plan and set goals. It may be helpful to discuss this with the guidance counselor or with a professional. Again, be supportive, realistic, and encouraging.
Hopefully these tips make the transition to high school easier for you and your child. Remember to do the best you can on any given day.
Tracy Greenberg has become a strong part of the Sheppard Pratt community. She is mother to Bryce, who attends The Frost School, part of the Sheppard Pratt Health System. She gives her time as part of the Consumer Advisory Council, a group of family members, former patients, former students, and employees of the health system who are dedicated to improving our quality of care and enhancing recovery from mental illness and addiction. Follow along with Tracy through her blog.