My son has always gone to a fairly small school from elementary through middle school. Next fall he will be a freshman in high school. The high school is large and my son is already getting stressed about it. I don’t know anything about the new school so I can’t help him much. I try to reassure him but it doesn’t seem to help.We all can become stressed about entering new situations. Freshmen have a whole catalog of new situations to face: new school, bigger population, status change (lowly), unfamiliar classes and time schedules, different social activities, new extracurricular options, teachers, friends, routines, environment and expectations for academics. All of these can add up to opportunities to feel lonely, confused or to get lost in the system. And, for adolescents, more ways to feel embarrassed.

Have you ever tried to walk in the out door of a store? Remember the first thing you did? You looked around to see if anyone saw you. You felt embarrassed — for just a few seconds — about a very minor mistake. Your freshman may be anticipating that same kind of embarrassment when and if he makes mistakes at his new school. Fear of the unknown is a powerful stress maker. To counter this anxiety — and other unknowns — help him become knowledgeable about the high school he will be attending.

Many middle and junior high schools have end-of-the-year trips to the local high school for next year’s incoming freshmen. They visit the school, meet some of the staff and learn about the layout and routines of the school. If your son made such a visit, remind him about what he learned. Ask what else he would like to find out. If he has not made a visit yet, suggest he do so. In fact, help him plan a visit. Encourage him to take a friend along to explore the high school and meet with an advisor or teacher. You may want to drop off your son and pick him up later. This gives you time to immediately talk about the visit.

While he is at the school, ask him to find out some things you are curious about, such as:

Does the school have a map?
What extracurricular activities are available, and how do you check them out?
What kind of homework policies are common?
Where do visitors park? What door do you go in? Is there a security check?
Is there a student handbook?
What are the lunch routines? Are students allowed to leave the campus?
Is the first day of school a complete day of classes?
What happens if you are late to a class?

By asking your son to find out about the school for you, he can learn a lot without appearing uninformed or too interested. He has his parents to blame for asking all these questions.

Advance information will reduce his stress and help him ease into the new high school faster. You may also learn some valuable information about the school, too — especially about how the school staff treated and responded to your son during his visit.

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