Helping your child if they're struggling with transition to secondary school
With the first couple of weeks of the transition to secondary school under most children’s belts, it can seem like the honeymoon period is swiftly coming to an end for some. Short tempers, homework struggles and dishing out the silent treatment may be some of the symptoms you’re facing during this transition period.
Although many children find their feet at secondary school within a couple of weeks, for some, transitioning from the comforts and familiarity of primary school can be quite a challenge and can seem like your once happy child is struggling to adapt to the changes as well as you’d hoped.
Why is my child struggling to settle at secondary school?
Although the transition time can be an exciting one for your child, marking a new phase in their lives, filled with hopes and anticipation, change also brings feelings of uncertainty and for some, anxiety and worry.
For nearly all children, big changes, such as transition to a new school, with new people, routines and challenges, is inevitably going to bring its ups and downs.
You may notice that your child seems to flit from one emotion to the next, have emotional outbursts or become unusually reserved. This can be a very normal reaction to the change they are experiencing.
There are many reasons why they might be finding the transition particularly difficult: some children worry about making new friends or leaving old ones behind; for some, the idea of new teacher in different classrooms and moving from one lesson to another can fill them with nerves, others may feel daunted by new school rules or even the change in uniform. After all, at primary school they were very likely used to having one teacher, one classroom and being the eldest in the school for a whole year. Secondary school is going to feel very different, indeed.
How can I help my child during this period of transition?
It’s never too late to support your child with their transition to secondary school.
In fact, there may be times during the school year, or indeed during any other time at secondary school, where the following tips may be helpful.
Support, encourage and be open
Talking openly with your child about how they are feeling is your most powerful tool when it comes to tricky transition periods, such as moving to a new school. The more comfortable and safe your child feels to talk openly and honestly about the positive and negative emotions they are experiencing, the more support you will be able to offer and, hopefully, the smoother the transition will be.
However, encouraging children of secondary school age to be open and honest about how they are feeling, at times, doesn’t come easily, especially if your child is struggling to identify their emotions in the first place.
Here are four conversation starters that may help to guide your child to talk more openly about their emotions:
1. Relieve primary school memories.
Have a look through photos, past school books and talk about the friends and teachers they had at primary school. The goal here is not to upset them further, but to mark the importance of their experiences from that time in their life and validate their feelings of loss and nostalgia. Leave plenty of space for them to talk about it, without too much verbal prompting from you. Perhaps you could create a memory box or scrap book together.
2. Keep the conversation going about questions or worries they might have in their new school.
If they do have something on their mind, make purposeful time to explore this together. If it’s a specific question, try and find out some information from the school’s website together or ask another parent or student to find the answer. I may be that simply validating their worries and listening to them is enough to help them feel better.
3. Look forward together.
The transition to secondary school can be a worrying time, but it is also filled with new and exciting opportunities. New subjects, teacher or even trips and experiences can mean there is so much to be excited out. Talk about these together and ask your child about anything they are particularly looking forward to.
4. Talk about other people’s experiences.
While the experience your child is having is a unique one, and should be treated as such, it can sometimes help to talk to others who have gone through a similar process. Older cousins, friends or siblings can offer a reassuring insight into what life is like once you have transitioned to secondary school.
It may have been some time ago, but even sharing some of the experiences you had in the past can be a useful insight for your child.
Your stories of transitioning to secondary school may just help to make them smile and talk about their own feelings.
Get familiar with the secondary school
Attending a new school at any time in your child’s life can be daunting, but the transition to secondary school can be particularly difficult, simply because it is such a different place to primary school. Here are 3 things you can do to help your child get more familiar with their new school:
1. Practise the journey to and from school.
For many children, travelling to their new school is one of the very first hurdles they will face. It may be that they are used to walking to school with you or familiar friends and now they are walking with new people, or expected to catch a bus to get there. Walking or travelling this route with them a few times can help alleviate worries they may have and help them to feel more prepared.
2. Find out more about the school.
Many secondary schools support the transition of their students by creating video content of the setting to share with them.
Perhaps this was shown to the children when they were still in primary school. Either way, this content may still be available to look at again at home with your child: have a look on their website or contact staff at the school to find out.
3. Take some time to get to know some key members of staff at the school and a trusted adult for your child.
This may be a parent support worker, a Form Tutor or Head of Year. Identifying key lines of communication with adults in school will give you and your child a first point of contact when it comes to discussing any worries or concerns.
Building independence and confidence
Confidence doesn’t come from being ok all of the time, confidence is knowing that you have a safe place to express worries and concerns and someone to talk to if it is needed.
Similarly, independence is not something that is created overnight but rather something that develops in an age-appropriate way, throughout childhood. So how can we help build independence and confidence in our child to support their transition to secondary school?
1. Empower your child at home.
Independence and confidence are first developed in a safe and secure environment. By empowering our children to take on more in the home, they will carry those feelings with them to school. Ask them to choose some age-appropriate responsibilities around the home, for example.
2. Build up your child’s confidence by praising their actions.
Be specific, for example, “You had a really good strategy to solving that problem,” “You considered my feelings when you did that, that helped me out.”
3. Encourage extra-curricular activities.
Taking on things we feel intrinsically motivated to do – such as a hobby or sporting activity – can really help to build self-esteem and confidence. If your child has a love for football, swimming, painting or gymnastics, find a way to explore that with them outside of school. Joining a club or include it in your weekend or evening activities.
Showing them that what they love matters, will help their confidence grow.
As their parent, providing stability and security is what you do best, and this will give your child the confidence to explore and test their new environment and seek out new experiences.
Despite this, remember, that it’s completely normal that you don’t have all the answers and that you don’t have to do this on your own.
Your school is there to help and between you, school staff and your child you have all the skills and resources you need to help your child make a successful transition.