Ways parents can help and minimise the feelings of uncertainty, nervousness and fear of starting at a new school
“Will they like me?”
“Will I fit in?”
“How should I do my hair?”
These are common thoughts that tween girls have at the beginning of the school year. It’s normal! Nearly everyone has these thoughts – that’s the first point to be made. It’s normal!
The second thing is that there are ways parents can help and minimise the feelings of uncertainty, nervousness and maybe fear of starting at a new school when you are 12 or older. But to support our girls we need to understand what’s going on and how we can help.
Developmentally, a lot of things are going on within the body and brain.
- Physically – there are a range of hormones that seem to take control of your body. Proportion and shape changes occur and can add to feeling self conscious.
- Socially – hanging out with the peer group becomes more important for acceptance and the development of self esteem and self concept. Some friends may not abide by your family rules – be ready for that. Provide choices so your child can experience autonomy within boundaries.
- Emotionally – hormones can make the tears flow more easily and annoyance bubble to the surface unexpectedly. The egocentric behaviour that was evident at 2 is back! “It’s all about me!”
- Cognitively – the brain is still developing so rational reasoning and neural pathways are being created through practice, practice and repeating learning and skills. Allow time and space for that to occur.
- Language – the ability to clearly communicate is becoming more refined but will also be age appropriate, parents need to listen so that we understand and can speak ‘their language’.
What can parents do?
- Research shows that teenagers need about 9 hours sleep a night to feel refreshed and calm the next day. Try to make regular bedtimes.
- Prepare well balanced meals and provide a routine for eating around the dinner table. Having a constant routine helps your tween to feel secure and grounded.
- Eat around the table with the whole family and take turns discussing the day. This is really important to teach your tween to share/vent/download the days events. It also sets up good habits for when things are worrying your teenager – they are already used to sharing with you.
- Avoid saying ‘you’ll be right!’ Instead use empathy to acknowledge your daughter’s feelings ‘I can see that you are a bit nervous about today’. Normalise the feelings.
- Be prepared to ‘listen’ not necessarily talk or tell your child what to do. Developmentally, she will want to try to work things out independently. At this point, the opinions of her peers may matter more than your suggestions. Best to be quiet and avoid conflict when trying to support. Explain the consequences of a range of actions and guide your tween to make the decision for her behaviour.
- Be reasonable about what you expect from your daughter. She is adjusting to a lot of changes now and may need a bit of space and understanding.
- Praise positive actions, say thank you for contributing to the household jobs, respect privacy, give hugs to show love and acceptance – this keeps the home life stable so that the focus can be on starting school.
What can the tween do?
- Go to bed between 9:00 -10:00 pm each school night to make sure you get about 9 hours sleep.
- Practice taking deep breaths when you are feeling anxious. Take a deep breath in through your nose and hold it for 3 seconds and then exhale for 5 seconds – really blow out the feelings or thoughts of self doubt. Do this 3 times. Then smile – this activates your brain to release a hormone called dopamine – a happy hormone.
- Use positive self talk ‘I am strong and confident’ or ‘this day is a day of adventure’ or something else that feels right for you.
- Spend some time outside in nature, looking at the trees, watching the clouds go by – this calms your mind and body then things don’t seem so overwhelming.
- Remember that practically every young woman on the planet is feeling the same about starting a new school year. You are not alone.
- It is more about who you are than what you wear or how your hair is. So, smile when you meet someone new. Ask them a question to get started like, ‘what school did you come from’ or something like that is generic and will start a conversation.
- Everyone has a need to fit in – not stand out, but blend until they make new friends. So take time to watch others, look for someone else that seems to not know anyone and go and talk to that person. They will appreciate the company as much as you do!
Transitioning into a new situation can be scary whether you are 5, 12, 20 or 50. Use this time to practice ways to move into a new environment in a way that fills you with self confidence. Remember each day is just one day in your whole life. If things don’t go the way you want them to – you can redo the day tomorrow.
About the author
Dr Kathy Murray has worked with children and families for 25 years as a teacher. She has been a full time researcher and university lecturer. Kathy now works casually with pre-service teachers at Central Queensland University in Noosa and supports parents, early childhood educators, leaders and organisations through her consultancy business, Training and Education Services. Kathy can be contacted to speak at your workplace or parent gathering by contacting her by email firstname.lastname@example.org