Transitioning to Secondary School: Helping your child to prepare

Transitioning from primary school to secondary school is a process bound to result in some apprehension. This transition brings many changes for which a young person has to prepare including; a different and perhaps larger environment with more people, new multiple teachers for different subjects, new classmates, a different lunchtime experience, and new subjects. Although this transition can be a time of excitement for your young person as they are growing up and moving onto the next chapter in their lives, it can also be a time of uncertainty and even anxiety for some.

So how do these differences and this transition impact on your young person? Your child is going to be making big adjustments navigating socially and emotionally through this transition. In terms of social adjustments; secondary schools tend to be bigger, have larger class sizes, and students have numerous teachers. This is a vast social setting for young people to navigate. This brings great opportunities for your young person to develop and grow socially. It may, however, also be that it takes your young person longer to feel comfortable enough in this bigger school environment to socialise. Your young person may be uncertain at first about where they fit in this new larger class with varying personalities. It may also take them time to navigate new and less personal student-teacher relationships. Remember socially this is quite demanding on your young person.

Emotionally, your child is also adjusting. These adjustments include; separating from old friends who may be transitioning to a different school, experiencing dual emotions both worry and excitement, being introduced to new technologies like mobile phones and social media. Mobile phones provide your young person with a sense of independence and can provide parents with security in terms of more communication access when away from you. However, boundaries around phone usage are very necessary at this age. Most schools will have a mobile phone policy and rules in this regard too. Additionally, appropriate safety features in terms of social media and internet use are also recommended. It’s important to be vigilant to the demands of social media, encouraging discussions with your young person around healthy social media usage and awareness of how misleading social media, images and influencers can be.

Transitioning to secondary school promotes more independence in your young person and achieving new tasks improves their sense of mastery and confidence. However, new pressures are also present including; an increase in homework quantity and difficulty, exams to prepare for, and increased organisational demands with timetables, lockers, and constant changes in classrooms. This pressure can be overwhelming for young people at times and they may need support to deal with these demands.

So what can help your young person with this transition period? Remind your young person that change can also be exciting and encourage them to think about all the positive things they will get to experience, such as new friends, new extracurricular activities, new subjects to explore, and more independence moving between classes and during lunch. Acknowledge the end of primary school and celebrate this achievement. As well as acknowledging the positives it is important to allow your young person also to express any feelings of anxiety, worry, fear or sadness that they may be experiencing. Most importantly continue to support your child and their emotions, and promote open and frequent communication with them throughout this transition period.

Top Tips: Transitioning to secondary school

  1. “Being with” your young person’s emotions-This means sitting with your young person when they experience a big emotion like anxiety or sadness. “Being with” an emotion does not mean talking through what has happened or fixing the problem. It is simply being with that child while they feel what they feel, indicating to them it is ok to feel the emotions they feel. Using phrases such as “I know you are worried” or “I know this is hard” can help them feel understood. Being with your child in their emotions helps them acknowledge and then move out of that emotion.
  1. When communicating with your young person, sometimes it can be easier to talk about how they are feeling and how it is affecting them when you are connected to them through an activity they enjoy. A relaxed, playful environment allows easier exploration of difficult feelings for your young person when the time is right for them.

When communicating with your young person remember: listen patiently, validate how they feel, boost their self-esteem with praise when the opportunity arises, control your emotions-don’t match their chaos, instead bring calm, be open and be observant.

  1. Promote safe phone and social media use with your young person:
  • Be a role model for your young person and show healthy phone usage
  • Phones are removed from bedrooms at agreed times (including overnight)
  • Set safety and privacy settings on their phone
  • Monitor social media use, content and communications for safety

HSE Primary Care Child and Family Psychology Service is running an online workshop on “Transitioning to secondary school: helping your child to prepare”. This workshop is most suitable for parents or professionals who are seeking information in relation to supporting young people transition to secondary school.  To register your attendance, contact 087-3451489.

This article was contributed by Elisha Minihan, Psychology Assistant with the Primary Care Child and Family Psychology Service. The psychology service is a member of Parenting Limerick.