Tweens want less stress & more year 7 confidence. PART 1

Starting high school, or returning to school after a long summer holiday of living blissfully out of routine, and happily flying by the seat of their pants for weeks, can call for a big gear change and focus on 3 game-changing controllables in February.

Teens doing homework

New high schoolers can find the first couple of weeks both wonderful and weird. They can feel a bit lost and out of control, which is why teens (and parents too) love these simple ‘WHAT I CAN CONTROL’ tips.

Let’s face it, when we feel in control of something (in control of ourselves is best, because we know it’s hard trying to control anything else right!) we are more settled and less anxious, which allows tweens and teens to get on with starting high school with less stress and more success.

I’ve been sharing these tips in coaching sessions for many years… and the feedback from teens is “I feel so much better knowing I have something to focus on and pay attention to. I feel more in charge of me.” And… parents also love them, because they offer 3 clear ideas they can use as reminders as kids drift off to sleep at night, or jump out of the car at the school’s drop off zone in the morning.



Remind teens 90% of week one especially, is going to be totally NEW and very different.
The young adolescent brain can freak out when faced with too much NEW, perceiving it as a massive threat. The brain desperately wants to keep teens safe, and does so by over-reacting and plunging them into the stress response – freeze, flight, fawn or fight, which can often show up as anxiety.

I often see young people accidently confuse NEW things as being HARD things, simply because they are unfamiliar and have little prior knowledge or experience doing the new thing. Thinking this is ‘new’, so it must be too hard for me, causes their brain to slide into over-drive, adding thundering below-the-line (BTL) thoughts to the mix. (I write about these BTL thoughts and how they can quickly fire up anxiety in my book for teens – ROC and Rise; this little gem is helping high school aged teens build their own resilience, optimism and confidence from the inside out).

So let’s look closely at below-the-line thoughts. In a teenager’s head, below-the-line thoughts about something NEW, can look like this –
‘It’s too hard for me, I can’t do this, I’m stupid, everyone else is doing fine. I can’t do high school. I want to go home.’ And if not nipped in the bud, this thought pattern can quickly become a pesky default habit blocking teens from experiencing the new and unfamiliar that comes with high school and inevitable changes throughout life. We want tweens to start off on the right foot with healthy thought patterns that will serve them well throughout high school and LIFE!

As parents we can help teens pull back this spiraling thought process, by encouraging teens to expect bucket loads of new and be nice to it! This option is far better than running, hiding, ducking and dodging anything new!

Life is easier when we are nice to new things; people, places, challenges, teachers, subjects, uniforms, bus routes, school buildings, canteen menu and siren times to name a few. Remember the stress response? well that isn’t needed so much, which means teens have less stress chemicals swirling around in their body. That’s a good thing!

A handy tip to help teens stay in control –
Say a few light hearted and settling thoughts to themselves, so their brain can relax and feel less need to protect and defend. As an example……

“This is new, I expected new and I’ll get the hang of it.
“Hello NEW, nice to meet you AGAIN!”
“Oh NEW, it’s you! You’re here again. I was wondering when you would be back!”

These above-the-line thoughts help dial down the stress response in the brain, like a nice calming brain hug!

I dive into high school newbies in my book for teens Hello High School which also has a very special PLANNER that compliments Hello High School. The book matches to the PLANNER, teaching teens HOW to plan, prepare, manage their mindset and look after themselves step by step. This is not your average planner!
A few popular Hello High School chapters are –
-Push back on perfectionism
-Expect difficult days
-Build boundaries
-Count your wins
-Be a solution searcher
-Practice prioritising
-Stop relying on motivation
-Dominate your devices
-Brain break – STOP, DROP, SORT.
-Trustworthy -be it. Gossiping -avoid it.

Quite simply – NEW means no harm to us. Keep showing up and be NICE to NEW, and soon you will become friends for life!


It sounds cliché I know, but internal nerves, fear or worry will often show externally on a teenager’s face (and through their body language too).

There’s a big problem with this – if teens’ thoughts and emotions are jumbled up on the inside, their eyes, mouth and face will probably give the impression they’re unfriendly, unapproachable or unkind even. We know for the most part this isn’t the case, as most high school kids want to be seen as friendly, approachable and kind, but their face might be sending out the exact opposite message, which can really block the formation of friendships.

We’ve all heard the term resting B face and we know if the young brain doesn’t have all the facts especially in new situations, it’s very quick to make assumptions and fill in the gaps with incorrect information, which exactly what Toby does in this example –

Let’s say Toby walks into math for the first time in high school.
He looks over at Hayden who hasn’t switched ON his friendly face yet, because his brain is feeling fearful and apprehensive about this first math class and nervous because he doesn’t know anyone.
Toby perceives Hayden’s vibe as ‘don’t talk to me, don’t say hi to me or sit next to me” so he chooses to sit away at another desk. Toby is left wondering WHY?

Why did he choose to sit at another desk with new kid Max? Max was feeling the exact emotions as Toby, but he choose to switch on his friendly face, by making some eye contact, smiling and giving off a facial vibe that’s friendly, approachable and kind. (even though he was nerves and a bit anxious).

Teens need help with this.
It probably sounds weird, but do this quick task before school starts.
Ask your teen to take 2 selfies.
One selfie with their FRIENDLY FACE ON, and one selfie with their FRIENDLY FACE OFF.
The light bulb moment will happen. I promise you.
They will take this image with them in their mind when they are meeting and greeting. It’s a game-changer!


Not really, but you know what I mean by smell the milk. You reach into the fridge, glance at the milk container date stamp, stick your nose in the spout and your brain does a quick safe-to-drink assessment.
Milk is good to drink or milk not good to drink, and if it’s the latter, you instantly know it, so down the sink it goes.

I ask teens to practice applying this simple rule to their thoughts, especially when they are thrust in to new situations with lots of people they don’t know yet. When a thought pops in to their head, remind them to smell the milk (gently rethink think the thought without giving themselves a hard time).

Is this thought helping me to feel gross, unsure, unsafe and stupid?
“It’s new. OMG I’m useless, I can’t do this.”
Yes? Then using this awareness to gently switch it up, to a thought that is on their side.

Is this thought helping me to feel amazing, confident, safe and capable?
“It’s new. I can handle new.”
Yes? Carry on! Go you good thing!!

I talk about this switching process in ROC and Rise too… The BIG 6 switch.
Teens loves the step-by-step switch, particularly when they have big thoughts and even bigger emotions that can feel overwhelming and a bit scary too.

Teens love these BIG 6 Switches-

  1. Doubt for dreams
  2. Anger for action
  3. Worry for wishes
  4. Fears for freedom
  5. Failure for finding out and
  6. Stress for soothing thoughts

I hope these 3 controllables come in handy in the first few weeks of school especially (but of course they’re not limited to school), These tips are handy when starting a new part time job, joining a new team, signing up for a new after school club, or community group and even ordering food in a new café.

If it’s new, then these 3 little beauties will come in very handy indeed!

first week of high school graphic

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