It’s a big change in their lives. For the past six or seven years, your child has gone to primary school – they may even have attended the same school since they started preschool. But now they’re starting high school and going from being a ‘big kid’ to starting over in an unfamiliar environment.

Luckily, there is ample advice to help with the transition to high school, including from the institution your soon-to-be high schooler will be enrolled in. 

Here, we spoke to the experts for practical advice on helping your child make the transition: Jarrad Duggan-Tierney, one half of influencer couple The Real Dads of Melbourne, whose son Reid transferred to a new school this year and will start year 7 there in 2023; and Gail McHardy, chief executive officer of Parents Victoria, who spends her working day advocating for parents and students in government schools and has extensive knowledge about every stage of a child’s educational journey.

SEE ALSO: How to Manage a Busy School Schedule in Early High School

Assure Them Their Nerves Are Normal

Not only is the transition to high school from primary school a big one, but it happens at the same time your child is changing physically and emotionally. It can be a lot – for them and for you.

“That’s why it’s important for the adults to lead with care and compassion,” says Gail. “They need to reassure their child that this is an exciting time, and that you are there to guide and support them.” 

Both when they’re starting high school and in everyday life, children need to know they can talk to you about any issues they have, and that, regardless of how they’re feeling now, there are upsides to going to a new school. Single out what might appeal to them most and build excitement around that.

If a child is social, like Reid, there’s plenty to look forward to. “He’s very much a people person, so he’s looking forward to being around more students, meeting new people and having more options as far as what he wants to study,” says Jarrad. “Performing arts is very big at this school, so he’s looking forward to the opportunities that arise to do stage shows and other things.”

Normalise New Routine

Help the transition to high school by normalising new routines such as regular homework times.

“We’re already starting to get into a bit more of a routine,” says Jarrad. “The setting of alarms to get to school, and giving Reid his own diary so he can manage that, especially when it comes to homework. It’s a bit different to just asking him if he’s done his homework.”

You should also test out any new public transport routes, so they know exactly where they’re going, and have a plan for when things go wrong. “Does your child know how to walk home or the nearest safe place they can wait for someone to pick them up if they miss the bus?” asks Gail. Make sure they’re equipped to deal with the unexpected.

SEE ALSO: High School Homework Tips and Strategies

Get to Know the New High School

As their final year of primary school comes to an end, there are likely many opportunities to visit the new high school. As well as official school orientation sessions, there may be theatre productions or speech nights that you and your child can attend. The longer they spend on the campus before they arrive, the more comfortable they will be in the new year. 

Gail also suggests having action plans for unusual (but likely) situations to ease anxiety when starting high school; things such as making sure your child understands homework policies, knows the protocol if they forget their lunch, and even what to do if they’re late to school. 

Organise Their Gear and a Place to Study

 Students starting high school will benefit from having a dedicated quiet area to do their homework.

Of course, there’s plenty that needs to be bought before the start of high school, from uniforms to books. Many new high school students will also need to bring their own device to and from class each day. Officeworks has created a BYOD Tool on its website that allows parents of high school students to enter the name of the school and grade their child is enrolled in. Based on the school’s requirements, a choice of three different devices is offered so parents can make a final decision that suits them, their child and the school.  

“It’ll be really handy because you know kids come home and tell you what they think they need based on what their friends have, so it’s great to have a website that gives you what you need to know,” says Jarrad. 

Reid’s in the fortunate position to already have a space where he can quietly do his homework. “It was sort of a playroom that became a study during COVID,” says Jarrad. “It’s nice and quiet, and away from the dogs and the rest of the house.”

But not all families have extra space to create a study area when their child is starting high school, particularly if they live in an apartment or their kids share bedrooms with siblings. “Find out what other options are available,” says Gail. “The school might have a homework club, but you can also look at community facilities like the library.”

SEE ALSO: Study Tips and Back to School Hacks for High School Students

How to Know if They're Settling in to High School

Be prepared for your child to take their time adjusting to their transition to high school.

It’s normal for children to spend a couple of weeks getting used to their new surroundings and the changes in their lives when they’re starting high school. When Reid transferred to his new school, Jarrad and Michael used their own experiences to help him settle in.

“It took him a couple of weeks to adjust emotionally; to find his space, to work people out, and for people to work him out,” says Jarrad. “We just kept reassuring him that he’d attract his people with time. It’s a bit like being an adult and starting a new job. We just went from our own experiences to tell him it was alright to be himself.” 

For some kids, starting high school is a difficult and prolonged time. Look for critical changes in their attitude, habits and demeanour. “If they’re staying in their room or withdrawing from sport or their family, those are big warning signs,” says Gail. “If you’re concerned at any point in time, you shouldn’t hesitate to seek assistance and support from the school or talk to someone you trust.”

This could be the person in charge of your child’s welfare at school, such as a level coordinator, or someone from the school counselling service, or a friend or relative who has children that’s been through similar experiences.

“There’s a saying that’s quite interesting,” says Gail. “That [at this point in their lives] a parent goes from being a manager to a coach. It’s about how you support your child during these new experiences. It’s about researching and going to the people who have the expertise and getting some ideas to navigate that.”