Top Tips for Starting Secondary School

Do you remember your first day at secondary? The time you jumped from being a big fish to a small fish in the sea of secondary school? It’s a time of change and the end of an era for your child – and however big they may look in the primary playground, they will suddenly look very small in a crowd of teenagers.

If you currently have a child in Year 6 then you’ll already be thinking about the transition from primary to secondary school, which naturally brings up a mixture of emotions, with nerves and excitement at play for many children.

For advice on how to smooth what could otherwise be a bumpy journey, speaks to Laura Dumbleton-Jones, Co-Founder of Happy Confident Kids, which runs transition workshops in schools across the UK.

Starting secondary school means big changes. What issues are parents likely to face as their child moves up from primary school?

Emotions will include missing their friends from primary school, experiencing emotions such as grief and sadness at saying goodbye to their friends. In the first few weeks of secondary school; the new journey to school, mixing with bigger kids, fears of bullying, making the leap up academically, getting used to new teachers and physically navigating their way around a bigger school.  

To help your child deal with these issues, you should you create a space where you become their emotional anchor. Your state is as important as theirs. Children are still learning to regulate their emotions and seek reassurance from those around them about how to respond to uncertainty.

  • Be their emotional anchor. By providing a solid, stable, and healthy emotional anchor from which children can feel safe, supported, confident and secure to explore their new experiences will make all the difference. Providing a good emotional basis, spending time with your child and shielding them from adult and emotionally fraught adult conversations is also important in fulfilling the role of anchor.
  • Observe and reassure. Your child may not even recognise when they’re suffering from anxiety or may struggle to put their feelings into words. There may be signs you can pick up on such as your child having issues sleeping or changes at mealtimes.

Children may express their fears with questions such as “Will I make new friends?”, “Will the work be much harder?” and “Will my teacher like me?”.  You’ll be able to reassure your child by reminding them of positive experiences, such as a recent taster or induction day where they were bound to have some exciting memories while they were being introduced to their new environment, new routines, peers, and teachers.

To encourage independence, help your child move towards a teen identity, by increasing responsibilities, speaking to them in a more mature way and being positive when they act maturely. There are bound to be a few bumps in the road along the way when your pre-teen becomes emotional and tired at times, so you’ll need to exercise an extra level of patience.

What can parents do to support their child during the summer break and prepare them for the move to secondary school?

To support your child through the summer weeks in preparation for the transition from primary to secondary school, there are several things that you can do.

  • Be prepared and plan. Knowledge and familiarity create confidence. A confused mind becomes an anxious mind.
  • Practice the journey to school. Thoughts of navigating a new route to school on top of the whole new experience of school itself can add in another layer of stress. This can be reduced if you practice a couple of ‘dry-runs’. During the school holidays, you could suggest making an adventure out of talking the school journey together and you could possibly combine this with a reward at the end, like a visit to a cafe for a nice treat.
  • Create a homework station. Having a dedicated space for your child to work, ideally with access to a computer and printer, craft materials, a place for books and stationery will help provide structure, allow them to focus on homework and feel more grown up.

What are your top three tips for a trouble-free transition?

  • Be their emotional anchor, make sure that you are not transferring any negative emotions on to your child.
  • Be prepared and plan, focus on the positives and discuss the benefits frequently.
  • Encourage independence, giving your child autonomy and the ability to learn through experience means that they are more likely to embrace the unknown as a challenge rather than a threat.

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