Being a Pillar of Support as our Children enter Secondary 1

Being a Pillar of Support as our Children enter Secondary 1

The priority for parents with children entering Secondary 1 is to prepare them to adapt to the heavier academic workload.

There is truth in this statement. Yet, a huge part of this milestone transition involves massive changes on the social-emotional front – a new environment, school culture, social circles and social hierarchies. Partnering our children to support their social-emotional wellbeing as they enter Secondary 1 will go a long way. 

Here are 5 sets of handles that we, as parents and educators, can put into action with our children as the year draws to a close, and our families ready ourselves for the coming year.


1. Affirming our children of their self-worth

Self-worth refers to seeing yourself as valuable and deserving of respect and consideration. Many of us often evaluate and compare our self-worth with that of others based on our achievements (e.g., grades, winning awards or competitions) and other yardsticks (e.g., appearance, social status and social circles)

However, a truly healthy sense of self-worth is knowing that your worth as a human is not dependent on your ability. Whether you are great, or not so great at academics or extra-curricular interests, you are still worthy of happiness, fulfilment, and love. It’s about having a realistic view of yourself and your abilities, taking pride in your strengths, and accepting areas of weakness. Higher self-worth has been found to be associated with reduced overall and social anxiety in students transitioning to middle school.

In other words, with a high sense of self worth, our children have less reason to be worried about what others think of them, and perhaps a lower likelihood of working to seek approval from peers who may be of poor influence just to fit in.


Here are some ways we can help our children build a healthy sense of self-worth:

1a)  Provide unconditional love, respect, and positive regard - Affirm our children that they are valuable for who they are, not what they do, or how well they do it; and avoid comparison with others, be it peers, or even siblings.

1b)  Schedule some one-to-one hangouts with our children. Our time and presence is more valuable to our children than we realise. The time taken to not just hear, but actively listen, and validate their feelings, or any other issues they face, is a worthwhile investment.


2. Helping our children build a strong sense of self

A sense of self refers to your perception of the collection of characteristics that define you (e.g., personality traits, abilities, likes and dislikes, belief system, moral code, things that motivate you). Students transitioning to middle school who have a strong sense of self have been found to have increased success at forming and maintaining relationships, and were also better prepared socio-emotionally for middle school.

Without a strong sense of self, youths can (i) easily fall prey to peers who are more influential, (ii) feel pressured to behave how they think peers expect them to, or (iii) agree with things they may not feel comfortable with. These often occur in order to fit in and be accepted by the in-group.

Being comfortable in your own skin and not being a social chameleon that panders to others is a mark of confidence; it is attractive, and lays a good foundation to establishing healthy friendships and finding your crew that you vibe with.


Here are some ways to help our children build a strong sense of self:

2a)  Help our children distill their values – take a stand on certain topics, for e.g., bullying and/or cyberbullying, boundaries with social media use, the use of vulgarities, smoking, peer pressure, respect for others, honesty/integrity. We can also take this opportunity to share our life experiences and the reasons that have shaped our stand. Doing so allows our children insight into the thought process behind value formation, and it’s also a great chance to build relationships with our children.

2b)  Allow our children space and opportunity to make their own choices – start small, for e.g., how they’d like to dress themselves, what to order when we dine out, how they choose to eat their food, which friends they want to meet over the weekend and what activities they might like to have scheduled in their week.

2c)  Reflection and journaling.

2d)  Exploration of their interests and hobbies.


3. Friendships & peer support

Peer support involves developing new friendships, and keeping old ones. Peer support has been found to be a protective factor of mental and emotional wellbeing during the transition period from Primary to Secondary school.


As parents, we can:

3a)  Help our children recognise what to look out for when choosing their friends and community. Discuss some qualities that are desirable in a friend (e.g., someone who is a good influence, who is respectful to others in their language and behaviour, trustworthy and dependable, caring and empathetic, someone with a strong moral compass).

It is also a good time for our children to reflect and realise that before expecting such a friend, they should be such a friend to others themselves. Conversely, discuss some qualities in peers with whom our children should keep their distance.

3b)  Help our children learn to be open to making friends. This could take several forms:

  • Conversations with our children to get a sensing of their attitudes or concerns towards making friends in a new school, and addressing these.
  • Role-playing making a new friend.
  • Discussing conversation starters.
  • Meeting and making new friends through holiday camps, or outings with family acquaintances who have similar-aged children.

3c)  Help set expectations that it will take time to make friends and establish belonging.

3d)  Help our children learn to treasure and keep in touch with a few good friends from Primary school. While these friends may not be heading to the same Secondary school, familiar company is always comforting. Friends that last through the seasons are precious, serving as an anchor amidst the waves of change.


4. Being aware of potential bullying in Secondary school and how to respond

Feeling safe at school has been found to be another protective factor of mental and emotional wellbeing during the transition from Primary to Secondary school. However, a youth’s perception of safety at school can be negatively influenced by bullying. Raising our children’s awareness of potential bullying in school, and equipping them with tools as to how to respond can help them feel safer as they enter Secondary school and ease their settling in.


As parents, we can teach our children:

4a)  How to recognise bullying in its various forms, e.g., physical, verbal, cyber, deliberately excluding/isolating a peer from joining in.

4b)  How to respond if they find themselves being bullied:

  • Tell the bully they do not like how they are being treated and ask the bully to stop
  • Walk away.
  • Ask a trusted adult for help, even if the bullying seemed minor, don’t let it fester – as parents, we can build open communication with our children to be that trusted adult.
  • In the case of cyberbullying – Do not respond as bullies often crave the attention; keep evidence of the bullying with screenshots; block or delete the cyberbully; ask a trusted adult for help.


5. Time management

With an increase in the number of academic subjects and CCA involvement in Secondary school, empowering our children to manage their time will go a long way. It can help encourage autonomy as they take ownership of their day, and build their confidence as they become more effective in prioritising and completing tasks.


Here are some ways we can help our children with their time management:

5a)  Speak to a family friend / peer in Sec 1 or 2 to get an idea what the secondary school schedule might be like, and how they organise their day.

5b)  Consider introducing the Eisenhower matrix in teaching them how to prioritise tasks:

  • Start with items that are URGENT & IMPORTANT
  • Schedule items that are IMPORTANT but NOT URGENT to be done later on in the day
  • Delegate tasks that are URGENT but NOT IMPORTANT, or, schedule them for later
  • Don’t do what’s NOT URGENT & NOT IMPORTANT
Eisenhower Matrix

    5c)  Discuss the option of scheduling check-ins once or twice a week when the school year starts (instead of checking in or micro-managing daily). This helps us jointly identify any challenges to work on without stressing our children. It also allows us to get on the same page with them early and prevents management issues from snowballing.

    5d)  Give our children the responsibility of planning their schedule during the holidays – first for themselves (e.g., outings with friends, enrichment classes, church activities), and then perhaps for the family (e.g., breakfast, chores, movie time / board games; or say a day’s outing – what time to leave home, arrive at the activity venue, have lunch, etc).


    To wrap up, here’s an overview of the topics covered:

    1. Affirming our children of their self-worth
    2. Helping our children build a strong sense of self
    3. Friendships and peer support
    4. Being aware of potential bullying in Secondary school and how to respond
    5. Time management


    It is our heart at HA Academy that as you have a go at broaching these topics with your children, that they feel loved and looked out for, you feel reassured and settled, and it opens a door for your parent-child relationship to blossom all through their teens and beyond.


    Your child will be facing developmental changes during this key transition period. Read more about these changes and how we can adapt our interactions with our children as they enter a new phase of life, in our previous post here.



    Ackerman, Courtney, E. (2018, November 6). What is self-worth and how do we build it?
    American Psychological Association (2023, October 29). Self-worth. APA Dictionary of Psychology.
    Care (2023, August 28). 10 expert-backed time management tips for teenagers and kids starting secondary school.
    Eisenhower (n.d.). Introducing the Eisenhower Matrix.
    Grills-Taquechel, A. E., Norton, P., & Ollendick, T. H. (2010). A longitudinal examination of factors predicting anxiety during the transition to middle school. Anxiety, Stress, & Coping, 23(5), 493-513. doi:
    HealthHub (2023, September 15). What should you do if you are being cyberbullied?
    Knott, D. W. (2023). Educator Perceptions of Student Social-Emotional Preparation for Middle School Transition: A Qualitative Study (Doctoral dissertation, American College of Education).
    Lester, L., & Cross, D. (2015). The relationship between school climate and mental and emotional wellbeing over the transition from primary to secondary school. Psychology of Well-being, 5, 1-15. doi: 10.1186/s13612-015-0037-8 (2022, November 28). Bullying in children and pre-teens: How to help.
    Raypole, C. (2020, June 18). ‘Who am I?’ How to find your sense of self. Healthline.
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