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Article  •  6 February 2020


First day nerves

From Starting Secondary School, tips for positively dealing with the first day.

Most of us remember it, and some of us still have nightmares about it: that awkward, agonising, anxiety-fuelled first day of high school. Starting Secondary School is adolescent psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg and veteran secondary school teacher Sharon Witt’s survival handbook for every Australian child and family facing this milestone. Inside you’ll find all the tools and information you need for entering one of life’s most turbulent and testing times.

‘Starting secondary school can be one of the most challenging transitions in a child’s life,’ writes Carr-Gregg in the book’s introduction. ‘Leaving the familiar structure of primary school, with routines, guidelines and expectations that have been established over the previous seven years, is not to be underestimated.’

With warmth and wisdom, Carr-Gregg and Witt offer the latest advice – from insights into the adolescent brain to motivational tips, examinations of the importance of friendships to surviving bullying, goal-setting, exam preparation and maintaining mental health. From the book, here are some tips for combating first-day nerves.

‘Take a deep breath, begin the day, knowing it will all be okay.’ – Sharon Witt

Now picture this: it’s your Year 7’s first day of secondary school. They start at a new school and they know absolutely no one, except maybe one guy from a local church youth group. Their shoulders are groaning under the weight of a ridiculously heavy schoolbag. The path to the gate is already packed with students who actually seem to know their way around. They reach the first corridor, drawing on vague memories from an orientation day last November.

They finally locate Room 7B. Other Year 7s are milling around, already best friends, it seems. Groups of chatting 12-year-olds, lots of friendships. Even a few teachers walk by and get in on the conversations.

But for your Year 7, it is just them, on their own.

Most kids are especially nervous about their very first day of secondary school. It’s perfectly normal to feel a bit unsure about that all-important first day. They might feel a bit sick or squeamish or they may feel like they have a billion butterflies throwing a party in their stomach. So what can parents say to help deal with these first day jitters?

The trick is to get them to remember that they are not alone. Many hundreds of thousands of kids all over the world are feeling all the same things as they are on their very first day of secondary school. And they all survive – just like your child will!

There are two key themes in giving advice to Year 7s:

Theme 1: If in life you cannot change something, you can always change the way you think about it. All Year 7s will have moments of stress, disappointment and upset in the course of the transi­tion to secondary school. How they respond to these challenges will have a big impact on their wellbeing. It is axiomatic that they cannot choose what happens to them, but they can choose their own attitude towards what transpires.

Theme 2: See life as it is, but focus on the good bits. Positive emotions – like happiness, appreciation, inspiration and satisfac­tion – are not just great at the time. Research by Frederickson in 1998 demonstrated that regularly experiencing positive emotions creates an ‘upward spiral’, serving to build our psychological resources. What does that mean for the Year 7s? They need to be realistic about the challenges that they’ll face, but it helps to concentrate on the good aspects of Year 7 and see the glass as half full rather than half empty. Before they start school, ask them to look for three good things each day that they can discuss with you after school. There is even an app for that (it is called Three Good Things and is available on the Apple App Store or Google Play).

By the end of that very first day many students find that it wasn’t nearly as bad as they’d expected. You see, our minds are very powerful things. The brain can expect the future to be horrible, blowing it out of proportion into something scary and debilitating. The real event, when you actually get there, is often not so bad. These initial negative thoughts are best thought of (and explained) by parents as a ‘CFD’ or a ‘Crappy First Draft’ – the cognitive version of a first draft of an assignment that needs to be re-written, re-drafted, re-worked and replaced.

Starting Secondary School Michael Carr-Gregg, Sharon Witt

A parenting guide that deals with one of the most significant transition periods of a child’s life – starting secondary school.

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Buy now

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