From Primary to Secondary Amid a Pandemic

Change is an inevitable part of life. However, the process of it can be both challenging and confronting. When early adolescents navigate the transition from primary to secondary school, it can represent a challenge to all who are involved (students, parents, families and teachers). This transition may be tough, but a focus on the relational aspect (ie. relating to others, peer-to-peer and parent-child) of the process can really help to quell some of the challenges during this time.

During this pandemic, the transition from primary to secondary has more fear and uncertainty wrapped around it - plus there is no point of reference for this. And as if the rocky and unexpected transition from school to e-learning wasn’t enough, we’ve now had the news that schools will be e-learning for the rest of the academic year (based in Abu Dhabi). For those who have children in year 6, I know that it might have sparked a panicky feeling, as well as it feeling unfair for your child to miss out on half of their last year in primary school.

Now, it’s important to acknowledge here that you and your child(ren) have already made it through a massive transition, one which is entirely unprecedented; where there was only opportunity for very minimal planning in advance; minimal information for all parties involved and any relational work may feel that it’s been left by the wayside.

Start by breathing, and knowing that you’ve already done, and continue to do, more than enough.

Transition to secondary school happens at a time when students may be experiencing changes associated with their development from childhood to adolescence. Successful transition from primary to secondary school is linked with understanding and acknowledging the developmental needs facing young people of this age. As a school counsellor, I’m only going to focus on the social and psychological.

Social: The need to belong and be accepted by their peers is intense, and very real. They’re also trying to find their place in the world, among their peers and possibly also their families. So, young adolescents will likely be slightly pre-occupied sometimes while they form and question their own identities.

Psychological: Your child(ren) may feel vulnerable right now, as they exhibit unpredictable mood swings. If this is scary for you, don’t forget that it will be equally, if not more scary for them.

Because of physical changes, possibly causing awkward and uncoordinated movements, your child may also feel very self-conscious.

Some students are also going from being big fish in the little pond of primary school, to being little fish, in the usually much larger pond of secondary school. Acknowledge your child’s positive self-esteem, motivation and adept adjustment to the transition they have just been through due to e-learning. They’re already proving they’ll be just fine.

The relational aspect of transition is crucial. Let your child be vulnerable and expressive - empathy will be the key to your relationship with them now. The more you can understand them, the safer they’ll feel. If it seems an impossible task, or you are constantly being shut out, accept that too. That’s what they need to do at the moment - make it clear that you will always be there for them once this particular storm has passed. And never take this personally. It’s not your fault, and it’s not about you. Often enough, even they’re not sure what it is about.

Importantly, keep them socialising. Although they can’t go round to friends houses or meet up outside at the moment, it might be a good idea to allow scheduled online “meet-ups” with their friends. Encourage this - either groups of them, or 1:1. It will allow them to maintain contact with their peers - who are all going through the same thing, and will serve as a very important and useful network for them now. If there are any of their friends who are going to be transitioning to the same primary school as them, try some gentle encouragement that they talk about this transition with that/those friend(s).

On a personal level, I can say from my own experience that transitions such as this do often appear and feel worse for parents than they do for children. My time in year 7 was cut off in April due to terrorist attacks in my hometown in Saudi Arabia. (We had no e-learning then either.) Come September, not only had I not been to school in six months, but because of the dangers in Saudi, I was then going to boarding school… In England. There were a few major transitions going on there, and it was a surreal time for all of us. My parents nurtured their relationships with me and my brother at this time, while they encouraged us both to get in touch via e-mail with students already at our new school. My parents were astounded at how quickly me and my brother adjusted to each step of those six months. Children are very adaptable, and the likelihood is, you’re struggling more than they are. Keep your children talking - to you, and to their peers. It might even be a good idea to find other students online that will go into the same school as your child come September.

It may be useful to acknowledge your thoughts and feelings about their move from primary to secondary and how different it will be for them - but be mindful that they may not be, or may not yet want to be thinking or worrying about that right now. It might be a good idea to test the waters of this conversation, but don’t dive in straight away. Doing so may plant new seeds of worry in them that might spill out and become out of proportion. It might also cause them to worry more about you and how you are coping than anything else. This is a stressful time for everyone, and they will be picking up on your anxieties. This is another reason why it is important to give yourself a break, and remind yourself that you’re doing everything you can - remember that you can’t pour from an empty cup!

The NHS in the UK have put together some brilliant audio-guides designed to help deal with stress, anxiety, low moods and sleep problems, among other things.

Self-care for you as a parent right now is vital. I don’t mean self-care in the magazine buzz-word sense, but real self-care. Do what you actually need, or want (sometimes two very different things) to do to make yourself feel calmer, and more able to cope.

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