Getting Ready for High School: Essential Steps For Parents

Reviewed by Dr Lucy Russell DClinPsyc CPsychol AFBPsS
Hayley Vaughan Smith, Person Centred Counsellor and The Ridge Practice and Everlief Child Psychology
Author: Hayley Vaughan-Smith, Person-Centred Counsellor

I am going to set out some essential tips to support you and your child in getting ready for high school.

Transitioning to high school is one of the biggest changes in a child’s formative years. 

It can be exciting and terrifying in equal measure.

There will be rules and expectations that are new to them. Homework and organising themselves will need to become their new ‘norm’.

Whereas your child was the big kid in primary school or middle school, they will be going into their first term as the little big kid and it can feel quite daunting.

back view of girl wearing backpack

Getting Ready For High School: Think Ahead

Start talking about the transition to secondary school well in advance. Is there anything your child is worried about?

What are they excited for?

Do they have any questions?

You could even create a poster or notebook all about the challenges and possibilities ahead.

The good news is that the summer holidays can give you and your child plenty of time to prepare for the big day, both mentally and practically.

Additionally, most schools organise induction days before the new academic year. This is a great opportunity for your child to familiarise themselves with the environment, meet new peers and talk to their new teachers.

Essential Steps to Get Ready for High School

Responsible Use of a Mobile Phone

A high proportion of children going off to high school will take public transport. It’s often the first time they will have done this. Is your child approaching this for the first time too?

It’s widely accepted these days that most kids will have a mobile phone for use in case of an emergency like missing their bus, which my daughter had the experience of on her very first day of secondary school!

But if they have a phone, they probably have access to social media which isn’t recommended (in the UK at least) until a child is 13 years old as a minimum. 

If your child has a mobile phone, remember to set some rules and boundaries and talk about the safe use of messaging apps and other platforms.

Another thing to mention… It’s probably sensible to have an inexpensive phone. Your child will have lots of things to organise and phones do get lost and left on buses.

To help, teach your child to go through a mental checklist before they disembark.  For example, check for bag, coat, phone, wallet and sports kit.

two girls on their mobile phones

Learning to Navigate Public Transport

Whilst your child may have been on a bus or train before, they probably haven’t had to do it on their own. 

So, how can you help them to build their confidence and independence so that they can make their own way on the first day of term?

  • Order the bus pass or travel pass in plenty of time.
  • Find a safe and secure way of storing it, preferably in the school bag and not in their phone case. If they lose the phone, they lose their transport. 
  • Do a practice run together in the summer holidays. Find the bus stop. Time how long it takes to get there
  • Help your child familiarise themselves with the bus timetable.
  • Talk about what your child should do if they miss the bus or train from home, or from school to home.
  • Put together a bank of important and emergency numbers e.g. school reception, bus or trainline, a trusted friend, parents, or grandparents if close by. Make sure your child has a written copy inside their school bag.
two schoolboys chatting

Preparing to Make New Friends at High School

As your child moves up to high school, there will be new people to get to know, not least the teachers and staff. 

If your child is staying local, there are may be some friendly faces and old friends.

However, there is no guarantee they will be placed with people they know. 

It’s really common for children to worry about making new friends. Sometimes, schools offer buddy systems, especially in the first term, whilst everyone is settling in.

Regardless of which setting your child is coming from, everyone will be getting into the same boat, so they have something in common right from the start! 

It’s also likely that they will all be having the same sorts of worries and thoughts.

To help my children settle into the social and friendship world of their new school settings, we always offered an open and welcome house for them to bring friends back to. We were also happy to ferry them to friends houses too.

Though it’s harder to get to know parents of high school friends, it’s worth trying to get one or more WhatsApp groups going, as sometimes you can facilitate get-togethers with new friend groups.

teen boy sitting at a messy home desk

Practising Organisational Skills

Lots of children are well organised. 

For some young people, especially those who have learning difficulties, being organised can be really hard and frustrating.

In their school life, there are a lot of items your child will need to remember to pack on different days.

Folders, sports kits, projects, ingredients for food tech, homework, piano music …The list goes on. 

But organisation isn’t just about remembering physical items.

Being organised can enhance productivity, efficiency and overall effectiveness in all aspects of your child’s life.

My main advice here is that even at high school, children need a lot more help with organising than you might think. Their brains are still developing, and this ability will improve naturally in their later teens and early adulthood.

Experiment with various types of checklists and planners until you find just the right ones for your child.

For example, some might night a very precise planner whereas for others a loosely colour coded system might work. They can also use reminders on their phones.

Organisation apps can also be life-changing.

It’s not a one-size fits all and if the first method doesn’t work, tweak and try again.


Getting Ready For High School: My Own Parent Experience….

I learnt that jumping to the rescue when my daughter needed me to drive to school with a forgotten PE kit or folder didn’t help her to learn consequences and impact.

In order to understand the importance of being organised (and with support, achieve it), my daughter took the lead with her own organisation by using a check-list.

She remembered her own books and typically got these ready the night before. 

With gentle reminders or prompts from me, life became a whole lot less hectic!

Here are some strategies that your child can use to help improve their organisation skills.

  1. Use a planner, calendar or visual display board.
  2. Set clear goals and prioritise tasks.
  3. Have an organised work space at home.
  4. Create to-do lists.
  5. Use technology for productivity tools and apps such as note takers, planning projects and tasks.
  6. Encourage your child to communicate their needs and reach for support when needed.
girl in class

Developing Independence Skills Ready For High School

Starting high school will require the development of many independence skills.

But don’t panic if your child doesn’t have these yet! Sometimes we have to practise skills in the situation, and they then quickly develop. 

Supporting your child’s independence skills will help them quicky settle into their new environment.

Generally high schools encourage students to learn how to be self-directive and independent but don’t expect them to be perfect!

Here are some strategies that you and your child can use before transition day to broaden and strengthen their independence skills:

  • Encourage your child to practice making decisions for themselves. You don’t always have to give them the answer!
  • Help your child to understand the power of listening and how to talk assertively and respectfully so others will listen to them. Practise this at home.
  • Help them to be resilient and bounce back from challenges. One effective way to do this is to talk through previous challenges they have overcome, and how they might apply the same approach to challenges at high school.

Developing independence takes time and is a gradual process which everyone will do at their own pace. 

Try not to compare your child too much with their peers or siblings. Meet them where they are. Children develop at such different rates!

Your child’s teachers will monitor their skills and if there is any cause for concern or room for growth, they will more than likely discuss this with you.

boy in front of front door

Preparing for the Academic Demands of High School

It’s inevitable that high school will be a step up from what your child is used to in their primary setting. 

Your child will need to find a way of balancing their academic demands alongside extra curricular activities, social and home life.

Some key attributes that will help your child to prepare for the academic demands of high school are:

  • Good study habits.
  • Completing work on time.
  • Keeping their physical and digital space organised.
  • Being proactive and thinking ahead.
  • Knowing how and when to take active breaks.
  • Flexibility to work with different teachers’ styles of teaching.
  • The ability to ask questions. To clarify, cement, challenge and express.

How many of the above does your child have? How could you strengthen any of the areas that your child is lacking in?

For example, you could help them create a visual study plan and schedule in specific tasks and regular breaks.

Your child will be learning a range of different subjects and there will be lots of information to take on board at the beginning of their first term. 

Knowing how to ask and formulate questions may be one of the most helpful attributes they can have.

Starting High School: Getting Excited About New Opportunities

There is so much to get excited about when getting ready for secondary school. It will be a great opportunity to get involved with lots of new things. 

Your child’s confidence and self-esteem can be boosted if they can find some school activities, clubs or passions that they can really engage with.

I recommend looking at the range of clubs and activities with them in advance and talking it through.

If they lack motivation or confidence, why not do a deal with them? For example, if you try basketball for one month, we will go out for pizza at the end of the month!

Sometimes giving things a try for the first time is the hardest part. If your child can agree to try, they have overcome the biggest hurdle and may continue.

Starting High School: Children With Additional Needs

Getting ready for high school when your child has additional learning, physical, emotional or social needs, need not be daunting if planned well. 

Whilst a big step for your child and for you, with careful planning and collaboration with school staff, the transition can be a positive experience.

Here are some guidelines to help you prepare.

  • Contact the school as early as possible. Discuss your child’s needs and provide any supporting documentation that is appropriate (for example, an IEP – Independent Education Program).
  • Schedule a visit to the school to meet key staff (form tutor, SEN co-ordinator, Teaching Assistant).
  • Teach your child exactly what to do if they need both academic or pastoral help. For example, who will they go to? What kinds of words might they use?
  • Discuss where a safe space at school can be made available for your child if they need it.

Getting Ready for High School: Case Study, Sarah

Sarah is a bright and motivated girl preparing for her transition to high school.

She found her previous school easy but has told her mum that she’s nervous about the increased workload and homework she has heard about. 

She is also sad that lots of friends are going to a different school and that she won’t know anyone.

Sarah’s new school has a good reputation for supporting its incoming students, with orientation programmes that help the students familiarize themselves with the new school environment. It’s a chance to meet school staff and talk about academic expectations.

On the orientation day, Sarah is paired with an older student, Jenna, who has a similar academic profile to Sarah. Jenna will be Sarah’s mentor through the first term. 

Jenna has been in Sarah’s shoes and can relate to Sarah’s worries about work pressure and making friends. 

The mentoring that Jenna provides also helps to give Sarah a sense of belonging and eases her anxiety.

The school sends out a booklet to all incoming students outlining some positive ways of preparing themselves and supporting the settling in period.

They suggest:

  1. Attend some academic workshops. School offers these to enhance the student’s study skills, time management and organisational abilities.
  2. Parent partnership. The school recognises the value of family support and run regular parent information sessions and school community social events.
  3. Peer Support for Learning. The school encourages students to work together in study groups which help build relationships, develop collaborative thinking skills, teamwork and open communication skills.
  4. Health and wellness. The school offers a range of student wellbeing activities. They have a school counsellor and run ‘mindful’ dance classes and drama groups which help to decompress and reduce stress.
  5. Social Activities. Many are student lead and organised. The starter term includes a disco, an orienteering weekend, and a student campout.

At the induction day, and with Jenna’s guidance, Sarah signs up to two lunchtime academic workshops, the mid-term family picnic and the disco along with two other friends she has made on the day.

Starting High School: How Sarah’s Transition Went

After the first month at her new school, Sarah and her class tutor feel she has settled in well. 

Her academic performance is strong and she is coping with her homework content and frequency.

Sarah said she thought she would be the only one who might find things difficult, but sharing these worries with new friends led her to discover that everyone had the same worries. 

The positive relationship between new students, mentors, school staff and parents had contributed to a smooth transition experience for Sarah.

a group of kids walking to school

Getting Ready For High School: Summary

As your child starts out on their high school experience, they are stepping into a whole new world of amazing opportunities.

There are bound to be hurdles to jump and plenty of new things to get used to and it may take some time for them to become comfortable in their environment. 

However, with your support and the right resources at school, your child can enjoy ahead of them an exciting time of learning opportunities.

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Hayley Vaughan-Smith is a Person-Centred Counsellor accredited by the National Counselling & Psychotherapy Society. She is the founder and counsellor at The Ridge Practice in Buckinghamshire, and counsellor at Everlief Child Psychology.

Hayley has a special interest in bereavement counselling and worked as a bereavement volunteer with Cruse Bereavement Care for four years.

Hayley is mum to 3 grown up girls, and gardening and walking in nature is her own personal therapy. Hayley believes being in nature, whatever the weather, is incredibly beneficial for mental health well-being.

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