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How to help your child cope with the transition from primary to secondary school

Updated on September 4, 2014

Moving on

Making the transition from primary school to high/secondary school can be daunting and upsetting for a child. Lots of emotions will be flooding your son or daughter. They may feel sad, excited, nervous, apprehensive, unsettled and perhaps even scared.

In our borough in Leicester, children attend primary school from the age of 5 until they are 10 years old, when they move up to high school. They remain in high school until the age of 14 and then make the final transition to upper school where they have the option to study until 16 or 18 years old.

In September, my daughter will move to high school and has very mixed feelings about this. On one hand she is looking forward to studying new subjects and meeting new friends, and on the other, she is scared of the unknown. We live outside the catchment area for her new school, which means that we had to apply specially, and luckily she was accepted.

Leaving primary school behind

Nowadays, primary schools do a wonderful job of preparing students for life at high school. They have time set aside to explain and talk to the children about what to expect and what will be expected of them. Children have the opportunity to aks any questions that they may have. Primary schools work closely with the high schools and often have some of the teachers visit the class to meet their new students. Our little darlings have climbed the primary school ladder and reached the top, they are the oldest children in the school and are looked up to by the smaller children. Now they have to start again - they are now the youngest children in larger, unfamiliar surroundings. With not long until the schools break up for the summer, some children can become withdrawn and worry over the holidays.

Saying goodbye to the teachers and staff that they have known for the past five years is a sad occasion for pupils and parents. Suddenly they realise that the teachers who know them so well will no longer be around. At my daughters school they held a Leavers Disco in their honour and a Leavers Assembly which parents attended. There was not a dry eye in the room once the headmaster had finished his speech, and afterwards the teachers signed the pupils shirts as a momento. Not all the children move up to the same high school, and so saying goodbye to friends is another emotion that they have to deal with.

My old high school
My old high school

Moving up to high school

These days, most high schools hold induction days for the new pupils starting in the new term. This is a great opportunity for the children to spend some time in their new surroundings, meet their teachers and some of the pupils from their year. During these few days, they follow the curriculum and spend time in various classes with their new tutors. In most primary schools, children have the same teacher for a term and only spend time in one or two classrooms. Now they have a different teacher for each subject and have to follow a timetable which tells them which subject and classroom they need to go to. Most children adapt to the change with ease, but a small number of pupils worry about the changes and uncertainty that lie ahead.

How we can help our children adapt

We can help our children in a number of ways:

  • Listen to your child, even the smallest problem in your child's mind can turn into a huge obstacle if they bottle their feelings up. Ensure it is just the two of you, and that there are no distractions as they need to feel that they have your full attention, especially if they are about to reveal their feelings to you. Let them speak about how they are feeling and let them know that it is normal to feel this way, perhaps tell them that you felt the same way when you left primary school. Ensure they know that you will be there for them whenever they need to talk.
  • Ask them if there is anything that would help put their mind at ease. They may feel that they would like to see the school again before they start the next term.
  • Allow them to choose part of the uniform, school bag, pencil case etc. They will feel more valued if they have an input.
  • If they are leaving some friends behind who are not moving up to the same school, encourage them to keep in touch, perhaps have them over occasionally to play.
  • Spend as much time as you can with your child over the holidays and plan some days out, which will help take their minds off the situation.
  • Make allowances for any change in behaviour. They may feel sad and be uncharacteristically quiet, or they may get a bit bad tempered. This is quite normal, so try to be understanding and avoid confrontations, this could lead to them being more upset and tearful. They may be more clingy than usual or more demanding and again this is very common.
  • If your child is finding it difficult to discuss their feelings, they may feel better writing how they feel. Ask them to write down how their thoughts, or what they are most looking forward to and what they are unsure of.
  • They may have a loss of appetite which can be caused by stress. Again this is quite normal, just be on the look out and perhaps get them to choose meals or help in the kitchen while you are preparing dinner. They may be more likely to eat food that they have helped to prepare.
  • Children who worry, may sleep less or have uneasy nights. Try to ensure that bedtime is as stress-free as possible and ensure that they have enough rest during the day if they are not sleeping particularly well.
  • Before the schools break up for summer, there may be a booklet or information guide for pupils. Allow your child to have this to refer to, this may help allay some of their fears.
  • Allowing your child to have time on their own will also help them think about high school and try to work things through by themselves.
  • Stick to your usual routines at home. Too much change at once can be unsettling for a child.
  • Focus on the positives, e.g. there may be some after school activities that your child may be interested in, or they may be looking forward to participating in a new sport.
  • Don't keep talking about new school, discuss other topics until they raise the subject.

Life is full of transition in many forms, new school, college, job, marriage, etc. Moving onto high school is just another stage in their lives which they will adapt to. As the headmaster told my daughter the day she left "The next six years will set the scene for the rest of your life, you can be anything you want to be as the future is in your hands." Parenthood is not a stroll in the park, but by supporting, encouraging and being there for our children, it will help them grow as individuals and give them the confidence to tackle life head on and achieve their dreams.


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    • jacqui2011 profile image

      jacqui2011 6 years ago from Norfolk, UK

      Thanks for your comment ktrapp. I know what you mean about boys being less willing to talk. My younger brother bottled things up and never spoke at all about his feelings. I think its an observation game with some kids, just watching and being there for them.

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 6 years ago from Illinois

      This is very good information and very well put together. I guess your high school (10-14) is the same as our middle school in the U.S. Your points about the smallest problems being huge obstacles and to watch out for even the smallest changes in behavior are very true. I think this is very true for all children, but parents of boys really need to watch for behavioral cues because usually they keep a lot more bottled up inside and we are left guessing.

    • jacqui2011 profile image

      jacqui2011 6 years ago from Norfolk, UK

      @ Lulu Sue1987 Thanks for commenting. I hope your son finds this useful. Good luck to your grandchild in 1st Grade.

      @ randomcreative. Thank you so much. I went along to the information night at the high school tonight and was very impressed with the teachers and staff. We got to see round the class and the facilities and ask questions. I feel a lot happier now, and I am sure that she'll be nervous but I have a feeling that she will be fine.

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Great information here for all parents and students!

    • LULU SUE1987 profile image

      LULU SUE1987 6 years ago

      Good tips. My grandchild is starting 1st grade. I will give this to my son.

    • jacqui2011 profile image

      jacqui2011 6 years ago from Norfolk, UK

      Thank you for commenting. My daughter is a bit nervous about high school as it is massive compared to her tiny primary school.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 6 years ago from Wales

      A great hub with useful tips on how to survive what can be traumatic part of a child's life.

      I now look forward to reading many more by you.

      Take care