Ways to Help Your Child Transition from Primary to Secondary School

As we head in to the last academic term of the year, for children finishing Year 6, and their families, it’s a time of change. It’s the end of an era and a time for mixed emotions. As they transition from primary to secondary school, it’s a time for celebrating achievement and a glimpse in to the adults they will become, but it’s also a time of anxiety and worry. By taking a thoughtful approach to the transition process, you can make it a smooth one.

It’s All New

Moving from primary school to secondary school sees big fish in small ponds suddenly becoming the tiny ones again. There will be a huge new campus, and no matter how much your towering Year 6 looked too big for the primary playground, they will look positively small compared to the burly teenagers they are soon to be surrounded by. It’s also a time for new surroundings with much more complicated routines and timetables. Expectations need to be learned regarding a myriad of teachers, not just one. There are new friends, new sports, new everything.

This makes for an intensely challenging time. You’re aware that now, more than ever, friendships matter for boosting confidence and self-esteem. Being diligent with work matters at a level it hasn’t before.

The Most Common Mistake

The most common mistake we tend to see being made is parents thinking that a secondary-aged child doesn’t need them as much. In reality, whilst the needs change, they need you just as much. Investing the time in the transition from primary to secondary school will not only allow for them to settle in quickly, but also pave the way for a positive relationship for you both as you head into the teen years.

So how can you help?

1. Make the most of transition and induction processes

Now that you know where your child is heading for secondary school, they should be in touch with information regarding the transition. Different schools do it differently, but at a few points over the next few months you can expect to have a few trips to their new school. Visiting the school again now that they are definitely going there will gradually help to build the familiarity. Take advantage of these induction experiences, they are a real bonding experience for new classmates, and endeavour for your child not to miss any if possible.

2. Help nurture friendships whilst also standing back

Soon into their secondary school career you will realise that they need to be free to manage their own friendships. However, they are also often highly dependent on you to facilitate this. Now is also the easiest time to get the contact details of your child’s friends!

You need to take a two pronged approach: build new friendships and nurture old ones.

In the transition period your child will draw a great deal of strength and confidence from existing pals whether they are moving to secondary with them or not. This is the time that these friendships either fade away or become friends for life. Help where needed with arranging get-togethers.

Try to encourage your child to get contact details at orientation and induction events so that you can get the kids together in the summer holidays. Anxiety may build over the summer, and having some familiar faces come September helps.

3. Master the journey

One of the biggest challenges rearing its ugly head in the transition from primary to secondary school is the school run. Whilst you may be celebrating that it’s over, you’re now passing the baton to your child themselves. The journey alone can be a source of anxiety.

Therefore, use the time until September - and particularly the summer holidays - to master the journey. Find out which time train or bus needs to be caught, and practice the route. Start by doing the journey with them and then gradually let them complete it alone. In this way, they will be confident and ready to focus on school itself when term starts.

4. Get the gear

You may have already received the painfully long uniform and equipment list. Most schools have second hand sales. These aren’t just beneficial for saving the pennies but also for speaking to their organisers who can tell you what your son or daughter will really need. They are usually parents with older children in the school and able to help you make the right choices.

Do make sure you child has everything they need from a DT apron to a maths set and a phone. At this age it’s important that your child feels practically on an equal footing to their peers. Additionally, secondary teachers don’t go easy for long before detentions get handed out for missing equipment.

5. Focus on independence, with strong attachment

The focus at the moment will be on independence. This means encouraging your Year 6 leaver to do more for themselves. They should be taking responsibility for homework and chores, as well as packing their bags and time-keeping. Fostering independence comes more easily if your child feels secure in their attachment to home.

Think of it as attachment providing the springboard to independence. Let your child know that you believe they have the capability to handle the transition well but that you are there to help them when they need it. Praise often, and reward their attempts at growing autonomy.

6. An extra word about time-keeping

Primary-aged children are notoriously poor time keepers! They rarely wear a watch and they are often being chivvied with seemingly no clue about the time pressure around them. At the moment adults are always there to ensure this isn’t a problem. Come secondary school, get your time-keeping wrong and you’ll miss transport, miss deadlines, and swiftly get in trouble.

If your child doesn’t wear a watch yet, now is the time to start. Gradually step back from managing their time for them and give them the chance to learn in the safety of home and primary school.

As your child starts at secondary school they will likely need some help from you managing the different demands of homework and routines. Sit down and work out schedules and show where compromises need to be made, and how they can fit it all in.

7. Remember how tired they got when they started Reception

Cast your mind back to that first autumn term of Reception class and how tired they were at the end of each week. Now put that same exhaustion in a moody pre-teen and you’ll get a glimpse as to what to expect. Change is tiring and you can expect it to last easily until Christmas, if not beyond, before they are in the swing of earlier starts and the new routine.

Remember this phase of difficult parenthood will pass just like every other and be there to support and nurture even when they aren’t quite that cute, tousle haired 4 year old.

8. Reassess the boundaries

Rapidly the landscape changes as your child begins at secondary school. They will have friends you’ve never met. They will be asking to go out, watch older rated films, play new computer games and more. This may feel like a time when horns lock but it’s totally normal.

It’s time to rethink the boundaries and ensure they are age appropriate for your now secondary aged child. Encourage independence but also remind them of the corresponding responsibility that comes with it.

9. School communication

Even if you wailed at the lack of notice for the latest dress-up day at primary school you’ll still need to get used to the fundamental shift in communication regarding your child’s school life. The information you get regarding what your child is learning, doing, progressing and more will be considerably more limited and reliant on them sharing it with you.

Make sure you’ve set up all of the possible online systems the school uses, and encourage your child to share information directly with you. Don’t be afraid to make contact with the school if you need to. Your first port of call will likely be a form tutor.

10. Give it time

You may be thinking that by the end of September the transition will be complete and done. In reality, accept that for your child the transition may take longer. It’s not unusual for it to still be bedding down into the new normal come Easter holidays. It’s also unlikely to be a smooth process. You may be thinking they are completely settled and then tiredness or friendship issues flag back up again.

Your job at the moment is to provide consistency and reassurance as they navigate the transition. Soon they will be old hands and the transition from primary to secondary school will be behind you.

We know that the transition from primary to secondary school can pose some challenges to the entire family’s routine. If you need childcare for younger siblings whilst you attend orientation evenings, or simply to give you more time to focus on your eldest, join Sitters  for access to professional babysitters.

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