How to Manage the Transition to Secondary School

The time comes when a child leaves the primary education system and heads off into the world of secondary education. For any child this is a huge step, but for a highly sensitive child (HSC) the transition can be terrifying. Leaving the safety of a school after so many years and starting over in a new, unknown environment is one of the biggest changes a child undergoes. It is an inevitable step but preparation can soften the blow considerably for your HSC.

How to Manage the Transition to Secondary School


Time of Massive Change

My eldest child is twelve, and has gone off to his new secondary school this morning for the first time. He was nervous, but excited.

We have spent months preparing him for this day. He was ready. I have my fingers crossed that he comes home happy and excited for the days, months and years ahead.

Regular readers will know that our education journey has not always been a smooth one. We have followed a winding, bumpy path to get to this point. If you’d have asked me two years ago how I felt about my HSC son going off to secondary school I would have replied ‘nervous, terrified and anxious’.

Six weeks ago, when he left primary school, my answer was very different. He was totally ready for a new challenge. He was lucky enough to have wonderful teachers who really got him during his last two years in primary school. He had a huge confidence and esteem boost – his teachers helped him grow into a twelve year old ready for the next chapter.

Here’s how we, as parents, have helped him prepare for such a massive change.

Talk to Your Child’s Primary School Teachers

This is part of the natural process in the Netherlands. Primary schools give parents advice about the academic level of secondary education that fits with your child.

In our case, we all talked extensively about emotional and social needs, about being highly sensitive and how this impacts his education journey.

Ask yourself: What does my child need from a secondary school?

You may end up with a list of potential schools based on size, their reputation for treating children as individuals, experience with highly sensitive children or kids with needs beyond academic guidance.

In our case, the closest, most convenient option was ruled out because of a reputation for its ‘sink or swim’ approach.

Open Days

Visit all schools you see as possibilities for your child.

You can get a good feel for a school by walking around, talking to teachers, students and parents.

Ask questions.

Discuss your child’s needs.

Involve Your HSC

By the time your child is preparing to leave primary school they are old enough to translate their needs into words. They are capable of sharing their own wishes.

My son surprised me immensely with the role he played in the decision making process. He went with his instinct about how a school felt, the course he felt most excited about doing, and then did everything within his control to get a primary school advice for a place on that course i.e. he worked his butt off to get the grades he needed.

He didn’t opt for the school where he knew other kids already. He didn’t go for the slightly easier option. He’s the only one locally going to the school he has chosen, and it’s a 45 minute cycle ride every morning.

Get Familiar with the School

Make sure your child attends any transition days available. Use any opportunity that allows your child to visit and become familiar with their new school.

We had an Open Day attendance, an information evening specific to his chosen course, two meetings with a guidance counsellor, a transition afternoon and then a tour around with a handful of kids a week before school started.

He has also cycled to the school a number of times, is pretty confident with the journey, and has tried the bus route.

By the time we dropped him off at school this morning he had been inside school a number of times and some teacher and student faces are already familiar. It helps enormously.

Normalise Anxieties

That’s not to say that the six week summer break was worry free. Absolutely not. It’s been an emotional roller coaster ride. But that is the case for EVERY single child who makes the jump from primary to secondary education.

What I tried to do with him was make him understand that his stress was not unique. I explained to him that every child feels nervous and unsure about starting a secondary school. However, that stress could take over his summer break and ruin it, or he could enjoy summer and postpone the ‘stress explosion’ until the week before going back.

He realised that no feeling he had was going to change the fact that secondary school started on September 3rd. He rationalised his feelings, gave them a place and, for the most part, got on and enjoyed his summer.

It wasn’t until yesterday that the stress bomb fell. And it was a small controllable one.

Get Everything Ready for the Big Day

Get school supplies ordered, bought and ready in advance.

It’s the little things that can really stress a HSC out – not having the right books in time, not having the ‘right’ pencil case, bag, clothes, *insert anything here*.

It can be a small thing to you, but a huge thing for your HSC.

Help them get their school bag packed well in advance.

Prepare a picture in advance for your HSC. How will your child get to school, what time do they start, what do they need to do when they arrive in school, where does their bike go, where will the bus drop them, where is the classroom, which teacher will they have?

HSCs are rarely ‘go with the flow’ kids. Sit with them and go though all their questions, worries and potential hurdles. They will be thinking about all the things that could go wrong so be ready to counteract those concerns.

And them smile, give them a big hug and wish them luck…….



About Amanda van Mulligen

Mother, writer, author, blogger. Born British, Living Dutch. I have three Dutch sons and a Dutch husband and I blog about Turning Dutch and raising highly sensitive children.
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1 Response to How to Manage the Transition to Secondary School

  1. Pingback: How it Feels When an Orchid Child Starts to Flourish | Happy Sensitive Kids

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