The transition to high school is possibly the most fraught back-to-school season since kindergarten. Newly minted ninth-graders will be rubbing elbows with seniors who often tower a head above them. For the first time, grades really count. The workload will be more demanding. And then there’s the nonschool side of things: sports, clubs, activities, friends, parties, social media, drugs and more.
A new high school parent could be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed. And sure enough, when I started asking friends for advice to prepare my child (and myself) for the coming ninth-grade year, the most common response was: relax.
Experts I interviewed agreed with my friends. Their advice falls into four categories.
“It has gotten ridiculous. There’s so much academic pressure,” says Mary Alvord, a psychologist and author of “Conquer Negative Thinking for Teens” and “Resilience Builder Program.” “The anxiety of expectations is extremely high and the unknowns are so high.”
Ninth-graders (and their parents) need to manage anxiety and stress in the days until school starts — and the years that follow. Help your child take the new steps and decisions one at a time, which makes them feel more manageable. Above all, stay healthy by getting enough sleep, exercise and downtime, Alvord says.
“You have to prioritize sleep,” she says. “For parents that means setting some limits in terms of what screens are in the room.”
Remind children of the new schools they started in the past and how they rose to the occasion. Or share stories of how relatives and friends tackled high school and what helped them succeed. Push back on the peer pressure to load up the schedule with advanced placement and honors classes. Talk to friends with older children to get some perspective — for your child and yourself.
Plan a fun fall activity with your child and consider doing a room reboot, suggests Paige Trevor, a professional organizer and certified parent educator with the Parent Encouragement Program in Kensington, Md. “Create a budget, repaint, declutter, frame new posters,” she says. “High school is hard; it’s great if your room is your dream room.”
Another common recommendation: join a sports team. Your ninth-grader may feel more confident if they can connect with other students at practices. Many schools have a less-competitive team or sport for those youngsters who aren’t naturally athletic. And it doesn’t have to be sports — joining a club, interest group or even inviting other new students for ice cream in the backyard can break the ice. Ninth grade presents an opportunity to try something new, to reinvent yourself.
“A lot of success in high school is related to finding what you’re passionate about, finding new interests,” says Kimberly J. Martin, principal of Woodrow Wilson High in Washington.
Clubs, activities and collaborative work in class lead to new friendships, which parents should ask about. “The biggest concern I see parents having is not will they make friends but who their friends are, concerns about having the ‘wrong’ kind of friends,” she says. “That’s the place where parents should probably be quite diligent.”
In ninth grade, children should make more of their own decisions, if they haven’t already started doing that. This means choosing classes, selecting clubs and learning to manage their time. (It’s not your shot at a redo, to fix the mistakes you made in high school.)
“Try as much as possible to let students take a leadership role in selecting their classes,” Martin suggests. “Too often parents are in the driver’s seat and they say more [Advanced Placement] classes and all honors and are very aggressive with the academics.”
The same goes for late assignments, help from teachers and other communications with the school. “The students who haven’t yet learned to ask for help will often struggle. Learning to ask for help and advocate for themselves are skills that are really important,” she says. “Teachers don’t love when a parent is the one asking for everything.”
Set up a structure of support without micromanaging, Trevor says. That may mean a weekly meeting where your child prints a grade report and you discuss it together. Help students find an organizational system that works for them, then let them handle things.
“The parent’s job is to notice the success and to ask if the child needs any assistance,” Trevor says. “We want to mindfully switch from being in charge of our child to being our child’s trusted adviser. That means we go from a W-2 with job security and benefits to a 1099 where we can get fired and we only work when asked.”
Don’t be surprised if your teen regresses in high school, becoming more sloppy and disorganized. “Sometimes to leap big, you have to go backwards for a bit,” Trevor says.
Expect students to make mistakes as they find the balance between work, play and other commitments, Martin says. They’re learning how long it takes to prepare for a test, to complete reading, to finish a problem set and the like. Don’t freak out if a B-minus comes home.
“Ninth and tenth grade are an adjustment period where students are figuring out who I am, what are my passions and how can I manage my time,” she says. “I would say to parents: Be patient, let the students figure it out.”
The night before you send your kid to Kindergarten is a strange place. (This is a long one. And I’d being lying if I said I didn’t cry while writing it.)
You make dinner, bathe everyone, referee the normal fights, do the obligatory loads of laundry… all a typical night’s work.
But when she puts those little pajamas on and climbs into bed while the sun still has its face over the horizon, and whether you stayed home with her all these years or sent her to preschool, you’ll feel a little panic… a little pain your heart hasn’t felt before.
I remember it both times very well.
She will have her sweet little backpack packed and ready next to the front door. She will stop and admire with anticipation her brand new outfit for the first day. She’ll ask if you packed her lunch and did you remember her juice and you’ll say yes. The house will be quiet as everyone settles into their beds. You’ll crawl in beside her and ask her if she’s excited about her first day of school. She’ll say yes, she’ll say she’s nervous, and you’ll tell her she’s gonna do a great job. You’ll read her a book, you’ll say your prayers together, and she’ll drift off to sleep.
But long after she’s drooling on her pillow, you won’t be able to get out of the bed from her.
You’ll study her face and you’ll worry.
What if she gets lost in the hall and can’t find her way back to class?
What if she gets laughed at because she says “pupcake” instead of “cupcake” or what if she doesn’t make a single friend all day long?
What if she can’t open her milk carton at lunchtime or her water bottle at snack time and what if she falls on the playground and skins her knee but her teacher is too busy to hold her while she cries?
What if she misses you badly all day long?
What if she doesn’t think about you at all?
I remember the worrying that night.
Did I let her have too much screen time?
Did I play with her enough?
Does she know that every single one of those days that we were home together were days I wrote upon my heart forever?
That every sandwich I made, every pool day, every morning we snuggled in bed together were gifts from God Himself to me and that even when I acted like I wanted to be anywhere else, there was nowhere else as satisfying to me as being with her?
Does she only remember the days I lost my crap on her or does she first think of the spontaneous ice creams and the time we ran and played in the rain and the silly faces and smiles that only took place between her and me?
Did I affirm her enough so she believes she can attempt anything, but not so much that she’s devastated when she fails?
Does she know she WILL fail and she SHOULD fail?
And does she know I love her even when she does?
Does she remember God is with her?
Did I listen to her enough?
Does she know she can tell me anything?
Did I do enough, love enough, prepare her enough?
I see you, Momma.
I know what you’re going to do tonight.
You’ll lie next to her, and you’ll study her eyelashes. What will her eyes see at school that you fought for five years to protect her heart from? Hatefulness, images on phones, bullies. Her eyes will see it all. But they’ll also see kindness and opportunities and field trips and beautiful friends. They’ll see her future and they’ll look for you in every carline and they’ll light up when she opens the door to crawl inside that moving cocoon at the end of the day.
You’ll study her hands. Will she fidget with them like only you notice she does when she’s nervous at lunchtime because no one sits with her? How will her little fingers look holding a big girl pencil at her big girl desk? Will her hands touch the shoulder of a friend she’s praying for? Will they know to fold in prayer when she’s panicked? Will they raise in the air to ask a question if she doesn’t understand? Will they ever be tempted to throw a punch? Will they show mercy when mercy isn’t deserved?
You’ll watch her breathe. How many times will she hold her breath in worry as a teacher passes back out graded papers? How many cold mornings will she watch her breath in the morning air as she begrudgingly walks into the school building? How many times will she lose her breath in laughter over something a friend says so hilariously and how many times will she struggle to catch her breath in sobs of brokenness at disappointment? Does she know that every breath of her life will be important to you until you breathe your last one?
Oh, Momma. You’ll put your face next to hers and you’ll pray a prayer you’ve probably prayed before, but you’ll pray it from a place of desperation unlike your heart has ever felt. You’ll ask God to protect her. You’ll ask Him for His mercy where you failed her. You’ll ask Him for good friends to surround her. You’ll pray her teacher loves her well and loves her hard in your daily absence. You’ll pray for her heart to always be listening for His voice and for that precious heart to be protected from pain and rejection and heartache. You’ll pray for boys to be good to her and for girls to be kind to her and for her days to be filled with nothing but happiness.
You’ll get up and you’ll go to your own bed and collapse in the same exhaustion you collapse in every night. Morning will come early, as usual. And you know what?
You’ll be ready.
So will she.
You’ll need some coffee, so I recommend treating yourself to one not made in your kitchen this time. Target is waiting. Those big red carts will take your mind off of what she’s doing or not doing for at least an hour.
Lift your cup high. You did it. You didn’t do it perfectly, but you did it consistently and you did it well.
You survived morning sickness and labor and diapers and nursing and colic and sleep deprivation and potty training and learning to walk and her first black eye and her first tummy bug. You survived the ear aches and ear tubes and toddler sleep regression and the Terrific Twos and the Threenager stage. You survived preschool and Hand Foot Mouth and you survived school shopping. You survived school orientation and you survived last night.
You’ll survive today, too.
Soon, it will be 2:00 and you’ll need to drive your van to the school to get in your first carline. It’ll feel like forever ’til you see her little face on that sidewalk, but I almost guarantee you, it will be smiling. She’s a different kid. She’s a big kid now. She grew up today and she’s going to be so proud.
And for the first time in 24 hours, you’ll let out the breath you’ve been holding and a whole new normal will have begun.
You’ve got to let her go, Momma.
She’s got a world to change and you’ve got sleepovers and after school snacks to prepare for.
God’s got her. And God’s got you.
And those of us who have done it already know YOU’VE got THIS.
The first day of school is coming! And yes, some parents are ready for the regular fall schedule. Lisa DiNoto was ready! But she did something special with her time while her sons were at school – she went to Disney World…alone.
While her sons were in school, Lisa headed to the Magic Kingdom, which is really close to where they live in central Florida. As soon as she got there, she got a pin, which Disney World uses to celebrate just about anything and for her special visit, her pin read: “Celebrating the 1st Day of School.”
From there, DiNoto roamed the theme park freely, with no children in tow. She had her photo snapped with various Disney workers all day, who all seemed to get a kick out of her pin. She says the best part of the day was when she met Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother, who laughed so hard at the mom’s solo visit pin, she was crying. She even gave DiNoto a special bag of pixie dust and told her, “This is for you and only you. You use it today.”
When Pickup time came, they shared their details of their day!
A few months ago, Joy99 helped raise over $12,000 for Evan Potter, a 17 year old Zeeland West High School student. Evan was diagnosed with a non-cancerous and inoperable brain tumor on his thalamus in August of 2014, which causes daily migraines and Postural Tachycardia syndrom. He also has an increased heart rate and uncontrolled blood pressure. He takes several medications a day, weekly trips to the hospitals for IVs, and occasionally spends weeks int he hospital at a time.
Recently, Tommy and Brook caught up with Evan for an update before he enters his senior year. The news that Evan received from his doctor was nothing short of a miracle. Take a listen!
This recipe dates back to my high school days and I’m not sure I’ve made it since about college. But I got a request for it, so here you go! There are many similar recipes out there, but I don’t think any are quite like this! Enjoy!
1 chocolate crumb crust (9 inches)
1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup crunchy peanut butter
1/2 cup milk
1 tub (8 oz) frozen whipped topping, thawed
1/4 cup chopped peanuts
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
In a large bowl, beat cream cheese until fluffy. Blend in sugar and peanut butter. Gradually add milk. Fold in whipped topping and chocolate chips; spoon into the crust. Sprinkle with peanuts. Chill overnight.