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How can I support my child’s move to a new school where he doesn’t know anyone?

I have a question about my Year 6 son. He is going to a different secondary school to all of his primary school friends. I am worried about him feeling left out and anxious about not knowing anyone when he gets to his new school. He doesn’t seem worried and is confident socially and in new situations, but I don’t want to assume he is fine when he might not be. Also, his older brother has not had a very positive time at secondary school, resulting in a lot of detentions and a lot of parent meetings so I am concerned he will have picked up on this negativity when he is a very different person. 

Hello! Thanks for your question. When I was reading through it, the thing that stood out first was the description of your son as unconcerned about impending changes and “confident socially”. This is good news indeed and bodes well, although, as you suggest, it is prudent not to assume that he has zero concerns at all about the upcoming school move. 

My first piece of advice is to spend a little time assessing your own level of anxiety. What are you feeling anxious about relating to your son’s educational move? Perhaps aided by a partner or a friend, can you jot down all the things that are worrying you at present and then consider the things that might alleviate or reduce those worries and wobbles? It is a bit of a brainstorming exercise. By approaching our own anxiety constructively, it can really help unjumble any knotty thoughts or worries. In this discussion, I think it is also worth including any worries you might have about history repeating itself in terms of issues that your eldest son may have experienced. Remind yourself that every child is different and that you have a strong understanding of the school culture, existing relationships with pastoral staff and are well placed to set expectations with your youngest around school rules and expectations. This will allow him to have the best possible start. 

I recommend you ‘lean in’ in a positive way with your son and ask: “I have noticed you seem happy about moving on to secondary school, is that true?”, “I know that some of your friends are going to another school in September. Would you like to stay in touch with them? I’d like to help with that.” Leaning in conversations aren’t just for one day and shouldn’t be too prolonged; you have time to observe, dip in and out of conversations around change over a period of months. Perhaps you are buying him a new pencil case for the school start (this might prompt a chat about learning at secondary school and how different it will be from primary school), or you are purchasing a new school uniform (this might prompt a chat about growing up and making new connections in a new school). 

I think there is also an opportunity here to ‘zoom out’ and to consider how you have coped as a family in the past with change more generally. Your child already has experience of change, feelings about transition and a little toolkit of coping strategies that he can reuse in advance of moving up. Perhaps over a dinnertime chat, talk about change within family life that opened us up to new friendships and opportunities in the past. This might relate to a time you moved house, country or went through a change that perhaps, whilst not welcomed at the time, led to fantastic outcomes. 

Change isn’t the enemy per se, nor is anxiety. It is normal to feel some anticipatory anxiety in advance of moving schools but remember (a) he will be in the same boat as hundreds of other children in his school, (b) he is likely familiar with the school and the environment already as his big brother attends, (c) all children generally like to grow up and become more independent, and (d) the staff that will welcome him in September are highly experienced professionals who will go to the ends of the earth to ensure your son settles well! You can have confidence in the transitional support on offer; you don’t need to go it alone. 

Rest assured, there are plenty of resources to support your son within our TUE platform on considering feelings towards change, making friends (we recommend social scripts), getting into a good mindset for learning and practising being organised. The following webinars might be useful too:

Off to Secondary or Senior School: Tips to Support Your Child

Moving Up: Five Things to Remember (Video for Children)

A word of caution: you are currently in a Tooled Up primary school. If the senior school that your son is going to isn’t a member of our digital community, remember you won’t have access to transition material beyond September, so make the most of our resources now!

Good luck.