Supporting the transition to secondary school
Supporting the transition to secondary school
Tuesday, 11 May 2021
The transition to secondary school is a big milestone in a young person’s life. Although exciting, it can also throw up challenges. The effects of COVID-19 have added new challenges for young people starting secondary school in September.
Young people have been in and out of school due to lockdowns since March last year. Experiences of school closures are varied, some young people have been relieved and others have really missed school.
There is a general underlying feeling of uncertainty about the future which can influence your child’s move to secondary school. Fortunately, there is a lot as a parent you can do to support their mental health during this process.
Talking about transitions
Change can bring up a range of feelings, sometimes all at once. Acknowledge whatever your young person is experiencing; be it excitement, fear, worry, confusion, or curiosity. Let them know it’s OK to feel any or all of these things.
You can support your young person to feel more at ease by actively listening. Have an open conversation about their thoughts and feelings.
Recognising these different emotions involves staying neutral. Statements like, “I hear you, you’re scared about how you’ll manage with more homework”, or “I can see that you’re worried about meeting new people”, can be a good first step.
Face-to-face conversations can be challenging for some young people, so consider how, where, and when to start the conversation. Some young people may express themselves through their behaviour, so paying attention to any cues of struggle can help you both get a better insight.
What makes a difference?
Young people’s ability to respond well to this specific transition is often related to their coping skills, personal resources, and the school environment itself. Encouraging the following aspects in your young person has been shown to help transitions:
- Strategies to deal with challenges
- Independence and self-belief
- Skills relating to others such as listening actively, being tolerant and co-operation
- A sense of contribution to school and community.
How can I support my young person?
From speaking with sixth class students in workshops, we know that the small things can feel big. Questions like ‘where is my locker’ or ‘where am I going to eat my lunch’ can play on students’ minds.
As with many areas of life, preparation makes all the difference. Help your young person find out about the practicalities in advance of starting school.
This might be through linking with the school directly and students who already attend. Or talking to other parents in the school. Often schools or their parents’ councils will have Facebook pages where links can be made.
Work through other practicalities
Talking through their new schedule, or doing the new walk with them to their school, would also be good ideas. This allows you both to solve any problems in the moment and provide reassurance.
If you’re aware your young person has additional needs, let the school know. Given all the recent changes, the more notice your school gets, the better you’ll be able to prepare. But before that, chat with your young person about how they feel their needs would be best met and keep them involved.
Remind them of their strengths
Young people have persisted with study and lessons under difficult circumstances, with the support of dedicated teachers and parents. Remind them how they were able to work through all the changes of the last year. Point out that learning from these experiences will help them adapt to new challenges that may arise.
Settling back into a routine, studying and managing a number of expectations is a lot of change. Sharing what you’ve noticed about their ability to adapt can help young people see strengths they may not have noticed themselves.
For example, young people have come to know that learning can happen anywhere and how to stay connected.
At Jigsaw, we’ve heard from a lot of young people that isolation has been emotionally draining. This has fed into anxiety around socialising.
Over a lengthy period of social distancing, friendships may have become strained or deteriorated. Managing relationships with friends, peers and teachers is an area where you can support your young person.
- Ease into it. Help your young person to arrange socially-distanced meet ups with close friends or neighbours who might be going to the same school. This will help them practice rusty social skills, as well as getting familiar with their new peers, at a pace that feels comfortable for them.
- Practice. Role-playing or going through conversation starters allows your young person to work through worries or concerns with someone they trust. If they’re not comfortable with it, they can write it down on paper
- Co-operation. Regardless of age, we get on better with others when doing something collaborative, instead of competitive. Building on your young person’s strengths and interests, consider what activities or topics they could use to build a sense of team work.
- Emotional literacy. Young people learn from their caregivers. Studies suggest young people have better emotional understanding when their parents listen without judgement or criticism and talk to them about emotions in an empathetic, problem-solving way.
Setting a new routine
One of the biggest challenges in starting secondary school is the constant change of routine. There will be a large number of teachers and classes. Remind them this can be a good thing, as they have new opportunities for supportive relationships.
Developing a regular routine at home can be a great place to start. Try a visual board or calendar that everyone can see to encourage your young person to use a journal/agenda. Once they’re in school, a bit of extra support at the beginning to create a routine around school work can help to settle them.
Sleep is also so important for mental health. Getting back into a routine over the weeks before school starts can help regulate the sleep/wake cycle.
While transition and change can seem overwhelming, beginning secondary school offers opportunity for new beginnings. Helping your young person prepare for and embrace this change will have a big impact on their overall school experience.