Supporting Transitions to Secondary School

Updated: Jul 6

If your child is transitioning into senior school this September you may notice there have been some mixed feelings about moving on. With any major life changes children (and adults) experience a degree of apprehension; when it comes to transitioning into senior school some children may be feeling the loss of old teachers and friends as well as the familiarity of their old school. They may be feeling worried about navigating their way round a new environment and finding new classrooms, or getting used to new teachers, different rules and expectations. Very often children struggle to put into words how they’re feeling. At this age their responses reflect their developmental stage as well as their developing personalities and uniqueness. Because each child’s temperament, resiliency, and prior experience vary, transitions will affect them in different ways we might see this worry played out through their behaviour instead.

How do Children Feel about Change?

It is completely normal for you child to feel worried about transitions. Children feel safer within the boundaries of structure, routine and familiarity so naturally they may wobble in times of change. However, this is also an opportunity for growth psychologically in terms of resilience, self-belief, self-worth and confidence. Our role is to guide them through this process.

As well as adapting to a new school environment and developing new relationships children are dealing with many physical and psychological changes that adolescence brings. There is a lot going on in terms of brain development which means the higher functioning “thinking” parts of the brain are still very much “under construction” so children may struggle to adapt and settle initially as they may be unable to think logically and rationally, this is further impeded when under stress.

"Helping children feel safe and secure and can turn transitions into learning experiences that support children’s growth and development in all domains".

Signs your Child might be Struggling

Your child may well exhibit one or more of these symptoms at any given time during adolescence, so be mindful of what might be out of character or unusual for them rather than taking any one sign that something is wrong:

  • Frequent negative self-talk/negative self-appraisal

  • Feeling lonely and sad

  • Withdrawal from family/current friends/previously enjoyed activities

  • Snappy/irritable/ angry easily (emotionally driven behaviour)

  • Physical complaints and ailments

Practical Tips for Supporting your Child's Transition
  • Connect them with the School.

  • Look at the School’s website together and become familiar with the information

  • Take part in inductions and know how best to communicate with the school and who the first point of contact would be if you are concerned.

  • Help them plan their journey, do a practise run if it’s the first time travelling independently

  • Arrange with other parents for friends to meet up on the first day and walk in together

Support them to build friendships

Start talking about friendships, help them think about:

  • How to approach and meet new people and start up conversations

  • Encourage them to join clubs as another way to meet like-minded people

  • Plan activities over the summer which allow them to stay connected with current friends as well as meet others

  • Empower them to take small steps towards independence, give them responsibilities around the house to help build their confidence

  • Notice and praise when they take initiative or do something independently

  • Let them know that they can fall back on you if they have any wobbles by keeping pathways of conversation open

Supporting Emotional health
  • Create opportunities to talk

  • Ensure the basics are in check (Sleep, diet, exercise, social contact) if these aren’t healthy emotional health is likely to be impacted too

  • Go at their pace - don’t anticipate or assume they’re struggling & expect some wobbles, (remember it is entirely normal to feel unsure)

  • Act early if you suspect any mental health difficulties, speak to a teacher, school counsellor or head of pastoral support if you suspect your child needs professional help.

Looking after you!

How many people ask how you feel about your children starting senior school?! It’s the end of an era, they’re no longer those tiny humans that need our constant care and attention so it can be difficult to let go of that stage, you may be feeling a bit lost yourself or like you’re losing your sense of purpose. Again, all this is completely normal and although they may not show it they actually need you more than ever during adolescence. But make sure you are applying a bit of self-compassion and ensure you have people around you that you can talk to if you’re feeling a bit wobbly yourself.

  • Know who to contact in school and have their details saved in case you need them

  • Become familiar with the pastoral care systems

  • Make friends with other parents (likely other children and parents are going through the same!)

  • Take time out when you need it

  • Ensure quality time with your children to catch up about their day and stay connected

  • Remember you don’t need to have all the answers – School is there to help

Follow @rootspsychology across social media to get more tips and support for you and your child.
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