A transition is a time of change and we all go through many of these as we move through different life stages. Young people will encounter many changes as they grow up, for example from starting school, moving into a new class or a new school, moving home, transitioning from primary school to secondary school or moving to college or sixth form and beyond.
How it can feel and why it can be difficult
Whilst transitions can be exciting for some young people, in others it can stir up feelings of stress and worry as they are forced to let go of the familiar and move into the unknown. Significant transitions can feel intimidating at first and it can take time to settle into the new situation. Change can be particularly difficult for a young person if they are not feeling ready to move on, they are feeling that the change is out of their control, or perhaps they are already struggling with other issues in their life. It can also be a daunting time for parents/carers too as they may have worries about whether their child will settle and how they will cope.
What is happening for the child?
When the student transitions to a different school, there will be a variety of factors that are different, for example a change from primary to secondary school may mean:
The child is travelling to school by themselves for the first time.
They will have to get used to an unfamiliar building which will be vastly bigger than their primary school and they will need to adjust from being part of a community of a few hundred pupils to one with possibly a thousand or more.
There will be pressure to make new friendships in their new school, and a sense of needing to find out where they ‘fit in’.
The young person will be moving from a familiar environment where they felt like ‘big fish in a small pond’, to one where they are the youngest children in the school.
They are leaving the routines and structure of primary school behind, leaving behind one teacher who knew them very well, to coping with a mixture of many different teachers.
A move to secondary school will mean that the young person will have greater academic pressure and they will also be expected to be more independent with their learning.
This all is happening at a time when a young person’s body and brain is also changing which can make things more stressful and worrying.
Moving on from secondary school
Transition from secondary school to sixth form or college represents a significant shift for a young person moving into student life as a young adult. However, like other life transitions, there will be some young people who feel anxious or overwhelmed by leaving the familiar behind and moving on. Further transitions to university can also bring up feelings of insecurity as young people may be having to leave home to live on their own for the first time which for some may feel exciting but for others it might feel overwhelming, frightening and anxiety provoking.
How transitions can affect behaviour
Leading up to or during a stage of transition, a child or young person’s behaviour might change in several different ways:
they might become irritable or agitated or lose their temper more often.
they may seem more withdrawn than usual.
they might become more anxious and feel overwhelmed.
they may find sleeping difficult.
they might be more upset or tearful.
Once this is recognised, it makes complete sense and is totally understandable. The young person is going through a period of change and uncertainty, and it will take them time to adjust and get used to the idea.
When the child or young person has made the transition, there are some signs that might tell us that a child or young person is finding their transition difficult:
they are finding it hard to make friends.
their behaviour might become disruptive or challenging.
there is an increased number of absences from school or college.
they are reluctant to go to school or college each day.
lower than expected progress.
they might become disengaged with their learning.
Remember, the child is reacting to a new environment and will need time to adjust – this is normal.
However if a child seems to be finding this transition particularly difficult and they are struggling, it is important for parents to speak with their child’s teachers, and in turn for teachers to speak to their safeguarding lead and voice their concerns.
Covid and Transitions
For children moving from Year 6 to secondary school, the last part of term is about enjoying their last few months at primary school and getting prepared for their move onwards. However, last summer, the pandemic meant that these children would have missed out on many ending activities, such as end of term assemblies, end of year trips, ritual shirt signing, end of term parties, visits to their secondary school and so on.
All of these activities help the young person mark the end of their time in primary school and give them the opportunity to say their goodbyes in preparation for their move to secondary school. Schools have, however, been working creatively to ensure that the children have found new albeit very different ways to say goodbye.
Many other transitions were also affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. For example, a child moving from one area to another, including a change of school, may have had many weeks of virtual lessons with a new class before having the chance to meet any of their peers. This may have brought about feelings of isolation until such times as the child will have been able to meet their classmates face to face and begin to make friends.
Students going to college, sixth form or university have had to choose their new setting via zoom, rather than visiting and getting a feel for a place, which may have left some young people worried and anxious about settling in to their new environment.
How we can ease transition for children and young people.
It is important that transitioning is carefully managed so that the child or young person can feel more confident and secure. During this stage it is vital that children and young people are given the opportunity to talk about their worries and fears and are supported to cope with any readjustments.
Tips for parents:
Keep a daily routine in place at home, similar to what was in place before the transition. This helps children and young people to feel secure and less stressed as their home life feels similar even if there are external changes.
Make sure your child is getting enough sleep so they can cope better with their new challenges during the day.
Talk through any new school routines with your child and perhaps, if there is a new journey involved, do the new trip with them beforehand. This will help them become more familiar with the journey and this may in turn lower anxiety levels.
If they are moving to a new school, taking them on a visit beforehand to see their new class/teacher. If their new school move is due to start in September, perhaps ask the school when the current class will be spending time with their new teacher and perhaps see if your child could be there too on that day.
Sometimes there might be a parent group for the school and/or year group on social media (for example Facebook) that you could join. Here you might be able to get to know some of your child’s classmates before they start at their new school and maybe even organise a play date during the summer holidays.
If the transition is to a new school in a different area, perhaps keep your eye open for parks nearby and you could try to take your child there where they might meet some children from their new school. Or maybe your child could join a new sports team or club in the area.
Make sure you talk with your child about how they are feeling about the upcoming change and allow them to share their feelings with you.
Reading books with your child about other children who are facing changes may be comforting for your child. If your child is older, perhaps leave books lying around for them to read themselves.
Try to be aware of your own feelings about your child’s transition and try to separate them from your child’s feelings so that you aren’t making the situation worse.
Many schools have their own website. It might be worth looking things up with your child and you might find some of your/their questions are answered.
Tips for schools:
A new child could be paired up with a buddy who is already familiar with the school routines.
Near the end of the school year, it would be helpful if your class could meet their new teacher for an afternoon, where they can get an idea of how things will be in September.
Give more anxious children jobs to do that will mean they are visiting their new teacher. Perhaps letting the new teacher know so they are able to accommodate this.
Spend time answering children’s questions about their new teacher. Perhaps allot a specific time for this. Let them know that all questions and thoughts are valid.
Have a handover meeting with the new teacher to find out who needs extra support, who might be particularly nervous coming back in September etc
If your class is moving to secondary school, spending time on ending activities, such as creating a timeline or creating a diary of their time in primary school.Also, thinking about what they are looking forward to in secondary school and what their worries might be.
Engage with parents and carers. Giving them tips and hints of how to help their child’s transition to be as smooth as possible. See the section ‘Tips for parents’ here, to give you some ideas.
Create events between transitional settings including talks and taster days.
If you are particularly concerned about a child or young person, make sure you speak to your DSL and they should advise on next steps.
Take a look at our Changes and New Class worksheets here. These resources are a simple way for adults to broach the subject of transition anxiety with younger children using simple language and activities.
How we are helping
We provide weekly therapeutic sessions for children and young people who are struggling emotionally, and this would also include children/young people who are finding a transition particularly difficult. We offer the child or young person a safe space to explore their feelings and worries and this can help a young person to feel less alone and supported when they are finding a transition particularly challenging.