Managing new stages with older kids

Today’s post answers a reader question. You can read previous answers to readers’ questions here.

How do you handle the next phase of life ie kids getting older and transitioning from Primary to High school and High School to leaving home?

Last week my post answered a question about younger kids, this week we are at the other end of the parenting journey and looking at transitions for older kids! There are definitely periods in our kids’ lives where I have needed to spend more time on preparing them and assisting them in moving from one stage to another. As each of these stages are unique I will write a little bit about how we approached each one separately.

From primary school to secondary school

I have written a few detailed posts on this transition which you can find here, but my overall key piece of advice for this stage is to focus on creating an independent child that is doing things for themselves that they are capable of. This means things like packing their own school bag, managing their own homework and assignments, walking to school if they can.

In secondary school they tend to go from having one main teacher in one main classroom each day, to having many teachers in many different rooms and juggling a timetable of homework that no longer follows a set pattern across the week. Anything you can do to help kids learn personal organisation skills will help them be better prepared for this stage of life

Not everything has to happen at once though. Our current year 6 child for example, gets himself ready in time to walk to school on his own, manages his own homework, packs his own bag, but he is a night owl and I still have to wake him every morning. We have talked about this and how he will need to wake himself up next year and he decided that in term four he will start setting an alarm and waking himself up. I also make his lunch for him, but next year he will join his older brother and sister and begin making his own. This he understands and has seen how they and I both do it, so is happy to start doing this in term one next year – no need to start any earlier on this one he says!

If you have a child in year six, now is the perfect time to start having discussions with them about what changes will happen to their daily routine (if any) and how they will manage it. If it is the first time you have a child in year 7, definitely have a read of my other posts here

Year 9

I think year 9 is worthy of its own stage in development for kids. In 2013 we had our first son in year 9 and I found it one of the most challenging years of my parenting life. In many ways I think I caused issues for myself. This is a stage of life where as a parent you need to start allowing your child to have more autonomy and independence and I think I was slow to grasp this. I wrote a serious of posts about my year in 2013 which documents mistakes and learnings I made and good research I found to help me through this year – you can find those posts here.

Our daughter is currently in year 9 this year and she is the third child in our family to pass through this stage. I have improved how I have handled this stage each time and this year has been much smoother sailing for us all. Naturally this stage is greatly impacted by the personality of the child, but some common themes I have found I need to be mindful of at this stage are:

  • They crave independence, but they also like security and stability at home.
  • They pretend they are tough, but they are actually quite sensitive at this stage which is important to remember when giving feedback as they can take feedback quite hard.
  • What you do and say on one day can be completely fine, but on another day it will cause them significant issue, as hard as it is try not to take things personally when they over react.
  • It starts taking them longer to get organised. Factoring in extra time when you want them to come out with you is very useful so there isn’t any issues. Advance warning about any requirements you have of them is essential.
  • Some teenagers at this stage will open up willingly to you, others won’t. You need to allow one on one time, space and do more listening than talking with them when they do open up.

The last years of secondary school

By the last years of secondary school I am referring to year 11 and year 12 which, in the State of Victoria where I live is referred to as VCE. So much is happening at this time – they are starting to choose subjects that will choose their career paths and university options and the parties really kick off. I am just going to tackle the far easier component of subject selection!

Our second child is in year 11 and my experience with our two boys and subject selection is that it needs to be fully their decision on what subjects they select. Schools have great careers advice now so they are aware of what subjects are needed for prerequisites at uni and other courses and how they are ranked in their scores at the end of year 12. I have offered advice to both my kids in terms of highlighting some considerations they may not have thought of and asked them some questions about particular choices, but have done so in a way that it is not showing bias in a certain direction or pressuring them to change their mind.

As parents we have let our kids know that we don’t have a particular score that we expect them to achieve at the end of year 12, but all we ask of them is that they work to their ability. It is easy to tell whether or not they are and at the end of the day, I have said to my kids that at this stage of their life, they are responsible for their education and they need to take up opportunities that will help them make the most out of it. I think it is also really important to highlight that the final years of school do not set in stone the path for the rest of their lives. I tell my kids that there are so many options and ways to get to where they want to go and they shouldn’t let any set back deter them from working towards a goal they have.

Secondary school to university

We currently have one child in second year university. Again like with the transition between primary school and secondary school I think the best thing we can do as parents is make sure they are as independent as possible. We changed the following once our son finished year 12:

  • Pocket money ended.
  • Household tasks ended but he is completely responsible for his own washing, tidying, cleaning etc and expected to use initiative around the home.
  • He can buy food that he wants to eat at home (that I would buy – not junk food!), leave the receipt on the fridge and we will reimburse him.
  • He can make his own decision about coming along to family events (with the exception of the key ones).
  • He is now paying for his own education via the HECS scheme.

I found the first year of having a university student living in the house quite challenging. Again it was probably just as much me as it was him, in that I needed to let go further and hadn’t quite got there yet. There were also things I wish I had told him earlier about university like:

  • Uni is fun and a great time of your life, but the first year can be hard. When you hear people talking about uni being the best days of their life, it is usually in hindsight when they are now in the corporate 9-5 world!
  • Often the first year subjects are your 101 type subjects and can be a little dry but it does become more interesting after that.

University is also very different in many ways from when I went long ago. So many of the lectures and resources are online so community life of campus has a very different feel. I think that this aspect is something teenagers need to consider when choosing their course – do they think they will be happy at this university? Going to University Open Days in year 11 and year 12 is a super helpful exercise to work out if they like the feel of a particularly uni. Not all kids want to go along, but it is worth persisting. If you need some help check out my post Tips for uni open days for kids who aren’t keen on going.

Our eldest is yet to leave home. To go to uni I had to leave my country town and set up home in Melbourne. There were many tough days in the first year, but overall I think the experience was a fantastic one for me. It wasn’t until our son’s uni year started that we explored on campus options for him, but by that time it was too late. Big tip if you are wanting your child to live on campus, now is the time to be getting their names on the appropriate list (now being the August the year before the February they would want to move in).

At this stage I think it will still be a few years until any of our kids leave home, so don’t have too many insights to share. I will however still work on making sure I don’t do too much for them and that they continue to grow in independence.

What tips do you have to share for these stages with older kids?