Moving up to a new school year can be a challenging time for all children, but particularly those who don’t manage change well. This article which is written by Emma Spillane and originally published in 2021, is packed full of tips and advice for parents to help make the transition as easy as possible.

Managing school year transitions (Part I) – supporting endings from home

It’s that time of year for schools in England and Wales when staff are ramping up transition arrangements for the next academic year, and our children may be showing us in a variety of ways that they are unsettled by this. It’s been a difficult end to this school year with so many children in and out of self-isolation, which has made the usual implementation of transition plans within school that much more difficult.

School transitions
Image by klimkin from Pixabay

For children who’ve experienced trauma, this time of year (coming towards the end of term) can be especially hard – those feelings of loss, of significant change, can resurface and can lead to heightened anxiety. For them (and for so many others, especially off the back of another up and down year thanks to Covid), how endings are supported is just as important as everything that goes into preparing them for new beginnings (whether that be going up a school year, or transitioning from nursery to primary, primary to secondary, or secondary to college).

What parents can do to help to help school year transitions

Here are just a few considerations you may find useful to support your child through the end of this final summer term.

Hopefully school is working with you to ensure that a clear transition plan is in place and underway, based on your child’s specific needs, so you’ve had some input, know what to expect and when – use this to talk to your child at home about it at the right time for them.

Transition plan

Check that your child’s transition plan includes going back to basics with things like knowing where the nearest toilet to their new classroom is, where they will put their bag, where they will put their water bottle, how safe the classroom is – things that can cause real anxiety for children who’ve experienced trauma can be around basic needs.

Contact from new teacher

Ask the next teacher if they would be happy to send an email (or postcard) to your child around a week before the start of the next term to tell them a bit about their summer break, and to say how much they are looking forward to welcoming them to their class. Obviously this suggestion comes with a caveat that teachers need a break over the summer and this request may be over and above the usual kind of request they might receive from parents.

Help them share their worries

Open up a space for your child to share their worries – you will know best how to do that, but always worth remembering the power of play for connecting up with feelings, or of just taking small opportunities to check in from time to time, being curious with them. They may also prefer to write their worries down and pop them in a jar; or for older children, maybe they might be encouraged to journal, or write a blog that never gets published?

Start a dialogue

Start a dialogue with the next class teacher where possible (if different to the current one), share your insights, concerns and hopes for the start of the new year, and agree the best mode of communication going forward – preferred modes can differ between teachers, so it’s useful to have that discussion in advance of the next school year, when everything can be a bit frenetic.

Saying goodbye

Check there will be an opportunity for your child to say goodbye properly to key staff and their peers so there is a clear end point to the year where the teacher communicates what will happen after the summer holiday once again. Getting your child/young person involved in writing in or making thank you cards to hand over can be a good opportunity to support clear messaging around this end point so they are involved in saying thank you in their own way.

Ask their teacher if it might be possible for them to pop in at the beginning of next term to say hello. Children who’ve experienced loss can feel endings particularly keenly, but messaging in the vein of ‘you’ll be moving on to a different teacher after the holidays, but I value our teacher-pupil relationship and will still be around even if you’re not in my class anymore – I still care’, or similar, can be very reassuring.

Consider whether a small photo of their current teacher and/or a small transition item of some kind might be helpful for your child to take away with them at the end of term.

New classroom and staff

Similarly, ask for photos of the next class and of the future key staff that you can look at with your child/young person as appropriate over the summer – helps with familiarisation. Even better, if school can do a quick video showing the classroom, maybe even walking the route from the school entrance to the classroom too, that’s a bonus (especially for those who were unable to visit their new classroom due to bubbles isolating at the end of term).

The Invisible String

With younger children, read the book The Invisible String (or sit down with them and enjoy this recording of it) and explore the concept of everyone being connected, even when not together.

Manage your expectations with ends and starts of terms – if your child is older and has been with you a while, you’ll know the drill, and you’ll know that these are waves to ride out as we support our children with navigating their way through another change the best way we can. Look after yourselves.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I hope helpful. Sending you all good wishes.

School transitions
Image by klimkin from Pixabay

Emma Spillane is a qualified teacher, adoptive parent and attachment & trauma trainer who works with schools to support them on their journey towards becoming trauma-sensitive. More information about how she works with schools and the training and consultancy she offers can be found on her website

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