My eldest son Max says he’s ready for high school. “We’re forming a gang, Mum,” he tells me. “It’s gonna have all the boys from my class who are going to our high school in it. We might ask other boys on the first day too. There’s gonna be 20, maybe even 100 year 7 boys in it. We’ll go around in a pack.”
Yeah, he’s ready.
Careful, Max, careful.
It’s taken my husband Bart and I the better part of 12 years to grow this child from an anxiety-stricken kid who needed hours of encouragement each day just to make it into the classroom, into this new kid.
This new kid leapt onto the bus for a 2-night excursion to Canberra without a backward glance. This kid stood in front of 500 people and did a sterling job co-hosting the school’s performing arts showcase. This kid proudly stepped in at the last minute to do a school tour for eight adults when the school captain was away.
Who is this kid?
Of course, there are still anxiety issues. You don’t get to be a kid with anxiety and not feel daunted in the face of something huge like this. The trick for Max now is working out what is “normal-person anxiety” and what is “Max anxiety” (his words).
He was nervous about getting up in front of 500 people, but told me, “This is just normal-person anxiety, so I’m okay.” His “Max anxiety” still gets the better of him, almost on the daily, but he has the skills to manage it now.
He copes so beautifully it makes me weep sometimes.
I want to show him to mums whose little kids have anxiety and say, “Look what happens. Look where all that patience and hard work and tears and therapy and longing gets them.”
I look at my boy, who is almost not a boy, ready to step into the next chapter of his life, and I wonder. I wonder if along the way I would like to have made different choices. I wonder if we’ve spent enough time teaching him to swim in the shallows before he is thrown in the deep.
I wonder if he’ll be able to move mountains and if so, could he start with the one on top of my chest?
“I think I’m lucky to have anxiety,” Max told me. “I’ve learned all kinds of coping skills that other kids don’t even know about.” Lucky, yes. My boy, you are very lucky.
Hopefully, all the kids starting high school next year don’t need to know about those coping skills. Hopefully they are coping just fine on their own. Unlike their mothers.
Some tips for getting ready for high school
1. Gather friends. Most kids will have some familiar faces starting high school with them. They might not be their ‘best’ friends, but it’s nice to have a familiar face around for the first few weeks. Get together with these friends in the school holidays before school goes back and try to meet up the morning of the first day in order to go into high school together.
2. Familiarise your kid with the school layout. Print a map of the school (most high schools have maps available on their website). Visit the school grounds whenever the opportunity arises – open days, after school (primary school often finishes earlier than high school), or ask for a school tour.
3. Get a diary. Your high school may provide one of these, but definitely get one if they don’t. There is simply no better way to get organised and stay on top of what’s needed and when.
4. Carve out some space. Dedicate an area in your home – either in a study or your child’s bedroom – to school organisation and homework. Have some shelves or baskets set aside for keeping school books in and keep a container well-stocked with pens and pencils. Make sure the study area has good lightening and can be closed off from family activities.
5. Try to be there. If you possibly can, try to be home before and after school for the first few weeks. Your child will have lots of things to talk about and it helps if you are right there, ready to listen.
6. Encourage friendships. Let your child know that your home is open for get togethers with friends new and old. Unlike in primary school, you may not have the opportunity to get to know your kid’s friends’ parents, so you’ll be relying on them to organise things. This can be quite daunting, but it certainly helps to get to know the friends your child is making.
Image: Redd Angelo/Unsplash