I walked into the huge doors of the high school for orientation, overwhelmed by emotion. It was all mixed up — joy, excitement, fear, pride, worry, disbelief. My daughter was oblivious to it all. As she walked beside me, she had her own feelings, but she hid hers beneath a cool smile, chatting with her best friends.

This shift to high school and all that comes with it feels complex for both of us. We are doing our best to feel ready, which includes more than course selection and locker decorations. Here are 10 things that will help you both prepare for the transition to high school.

Start getting ready now.

If you have a toddler, you don’t need to start buying her a high school backpack or prom dress, but you do need to start thinking about the trajectory of your child’s life.

What are you hoping your son or daughter will know before she goes? What do you want her time to look like? How many activities will he do? How will you preserve family time as she’s embarking on more independence?

Even in elementary school, we thought about how our time would look as a family. We decided our kids could do one activity at a time. We don’t need to plan their courses for high school the day they enter kindergarten, but our decisions can help set the whole family up for success as they grow.

Think about your school experiences.

Picture it all. Did you have a locker? Did you fall in love? What class was insanely hard? Walk down memory lane. Seriously. Now file it in the back corner of your brain.

Your teen doesn’t want to hear story after story of your experience. He’s living his own life. Your experience will never be his experience. He’s breaking free and you, his parent, could never understand what he’s facing. At least that’s what he thinks.

Only share when it seems right and wanted. One or two short stories will go a lot farther than talking about your experience so much that your child tunes you out.

Find someone they can relate to.

Maybe it’s a cousin or an older sibling. Maybe a family friend that’s a few years older than they are. Ideally, they are no more than 10 years older than your child.

Start bringing people into their lives for them to look up to, and work on building that relationship now, while they are young. “My daughter is an only child,” says Hannah James of Dunwoody. “We have close family friends who have a daughter 4 years older and often do family dinners or have her babysit my child to help foster a close relationship.”

Paving those paths of communication now will pay off when those hard-to-discuss issues come into their lives. You’ll both be grateful to have these trusted voices in his life as he walks through these years.

Give them responsibility.

This is the perfect time for kids to try new things and become responsible. High school years are the final practice for adulthood.

Learning responsibility begins right now — at whatever age they are. According to Jessica Lahey in her book, “The Gift of Failure,” “children are starved for responsibility.” Right now, your 3-year-old can help to bring the silverware to the table and lay the napkins on the table. Your 6-year-old can be taught how to wash towels. Your 12-year-old can run into the store for you and pick up a gallon of milk and some bread.

“Kids flourish when they are given responsibility,” Lahey goes on to say. Encouraging them to take more responsibility is healthy and gives them a chance to make mistakes while you’re there to help them through.

Having opportunities for things to feel hard or to fail or to work through a problem with a friend are all essential life skills. And right now, you get to be their backup. If they fail, they will learn.

But let them be kids.

While we do want our children to be responsible, the goal isn’t to make them act like they’re 40.

Does your teen still love collecting LEGOS? Keep giving them birthday presents. Does she still want to snuggle up and watch a movie with you? Say yes every chance you get. Just a few more blinks and they’ll be moving out to live at college or on their own. Make the most of these years while  they’re still kids.

The best way is to lead by example. Be silly. Sing really loud in the car, have a water balloon fight, and challenge them to a game of HORSE at the basketball hoop. They may roll their eyes, but that little kid inside will secretly love it.

Think about time.

This is one of the hardest things for teens to navigate, mostly because they don’t even know it’s flying by. Time management is a skill they will need for their whole life.

Scholastic has a great guide that takes you through teaching your kid about time management. You can start just by talking to your 3-year-old about how time works. When they reach grade school, you can give them set time amounts for things like eating breakfast or doing homework. As they get older, you can help them work through setting homework priorities or planning out a big project.

In high school, talk about courses available and which ones make the most sense timewise. Would a study hall be helpful during the semester they’re taking that Honors course? Help them think about their school day beyond cramming in all the classes they can.

After school time is even more important to think about. It’s tempting in high school to do all the things. Sports? Yes! Clubs? You bet! Driver’s ed? Absolutely. A job? Of course!

Talk about their time. Help them plan time for homework and activities and family. Also, make sure they understand the value of free time.

Lighten up.

It feels like everything is higher stakes once you hit middle school. And when they hit high school? Boom! We hit another level. Suddenly, it’s all about getting into college. And there is merit in that. But it’s a lot of pressure.

Find ways to navigate when your child needs to be pushed and when to back off. While we need to help our kids be responsible, we also need to give them opportunities to relax. We can be the soft place to land when the world is pushing them on to succeed and do great things. We can show our kids to be serious and focused while maintaining opportunities to lighten up.

Foster relationships.

Middle school and high school can be a wild ride when it comes to friendships. There is no shortage of hormone-induced drama during these years. Finding ways to encourage solid, healthy friendships can be a lifeline for your child. “Encourage your kid to have an open mind and be open to making new friends and expanding their social circle,” says Jenny Grossman, mom of a current sophomore and incoming freshman at Milton High School. “Have them try something new — a new sport or activity — to put themselves out there.”

Make opportunities to have kids over. Make your home a safe space to have fun with peers.

As they get older, take time to talk with your child about his or her friends. These conversations offer opportunities for your child to talk with you. Laying this foundation is essential when he or she encounters a problem. Your child will feel more comfortable talking with you, allowing you to help him.

Spend time together.

Making time to be together is something that you and your child will appreciate, as your child is getting older. Remember, she may appear to be independent and capable of conquering the world, but she still needs your presence, support and advice. “Frequent check-ins during the first few months are crucial,” says Grossman. “Kids experience lots of changes in social circles, higher expectations in the classroom, etc. Try for more 1:1 time together for those conversations.”

This can and should be enjoyable for both of you. From reading the same book to letting them plan a day for the two of you, there are a variety of ways to make this fun. Find what works for you and your teen.

What’s next?

There may be moments for your teen (and you) that feel overwhelming. It’s easy to look at high school as one giant thing you both have to face. When either of you feels overwhelmed the best place to start is with what’s next.

Looking at the pieces, the years, the semesters, we can break things down and focus on the decision right in front of us instead of a four-year decision. We don’t need to figure out what they’re going to do for a senior project the first day they walk through the door their freshman year. Just look at the next thing and face that together.

2-Minute Action Plan

  • Think about the stage your child is in. Look at all the pieces of where he or she is right now and begin to think about the trajectory toward high school. Don’t use this as a planning time, rather, use this as a time to consider the stages to come and the challenges and joys you will face together.
  • Look at your daily schedule. What is one responsibility you can give them today? When can you fit in some Special Time? When can you take them out on a date?

Ongoing Action Plan

  • How are they doing on time management? What can you do to help them become more conscious about time? How can you help them determine their priorities? How are you balancing the goal of giving them responsibility while letting them be kids? How can you do better?
  • Think about your own school experiences. How can you keep yourself from oversharing? Who is someone in your family or friend circle that your child can relate to? How can you help to build the relationship between them?
  • Also, give yourself time and space to think about your feelings as your child gets ready for high school. Acknowledge your emotions and thoughts to help you both through this exciting process.

-Rebecca Hastings

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