Parents can help children navigate first days of secondary school : Deakin experts

Media release
24 January 2018

The transition from primary to secondary school can be uncharted water for students and parents alike, but Deakin University Education researchers say there are ways parents or carers can help their children navigate the first weeks.

A lecturer with Deakin University’s School of Education, Dr Kate Johnstone, said with more than 70,000 Victorian students getting ready for their first year of secondary school, many parents would no doubt be concerned about how their children are going to handle the transition.

“This is an exciting time and most students look forward to making new friends and taking on the challenges of new learning,” Dr Johnstone said.

“However, like many changes, transition from primary to secondary school can create anxieties that need to be recognised and managed so support from parents, friends and teachers is crucial to assist all students make a successful transition.”

Dr Johnstone said that not all students would adjust to their new school in the same way or at the same time.

“Students will have different degrees of exposure to their new school environment, and bring with them their own expectations and personal and social skills,” she said.

“Ensuring that students have multiple and readily accessible support resources for sharing and discussing their feelings and experiences, within and outside of school, is a key aspect of successful management of the changes and challenges that the transition to secondary school brings.

“One major challenge for students is the need to feel that they ‘belong’.  Helpful transition experiences are ones that assist them to develop an understanding of their role and how they ‘fit in’.”

Dr Lynette Longaretti, a senior lecturer with the School of Education, said that parents should not be dismayed if they find that their child is distracted from studies and is spending more time in sports and other social activities in the first weeks of secondary school.

“A temporary decline in achievement has been reported by researchers of transition,” she said.

“This is a natural outcome of the combined effects of transition and the onset of puberty.

“Changes in self-concept and a drive for greater personal autonomy are occurring at a time when students are faced with more choices and personal responsibility.

“Notably, starting secondary school creates new opportunities and experiences that students must navigate and manage, and therefore, can help develop resilience.”

Dr Longaretti and Dr Johnstone offered the following tips for parents/carers looking for ways to support their children during the transition from primary to secondary school:

  • Be supportive and engaged. Being interested in school activities highlights that school is important and that you are willing to assist them to succeed. Attending school activities is not always possible for parents who work but any degree of engagement or involvement lets a child know that you are keen to know about and contribute to their school lives.
  • Get to know teachers and the broader school community. Teachers and the broader school community are important support resources for students and parents alike. They can provide valuable guidance for students and parents/carers if issues arise.
  • Listen and respond to what is happening at school. Making time for daily conversations signals to your child that you are interested in their lives. Your child may more readily seek your guidance if conversations form part of your daily home lives.
  • Ensure your child has time and opportunity to engage with friends out of school times. Making and maintaining friendships outside of school based transition activities are often highly valued by students. Former primary school friendships are important as they often provide stability and support during this time.

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