Starting a New School or Year Group: 7 Game-Changing Strategies

Written by Dr Lucy Russell DClinPsyc CPsychol AFBPsS
Dr Lucy Russell Founder of They Are The Future
Author: Dr Lucy Russell

At my clinic, Everlief, many children we work with find transitions difficult. School or year group transitions can feel massive. Children may have to learn to cope with:

  • A different physical environment
  • A different teacher or multiple different teachers
  • New styles of learning
  • Increase expectations (socially, academically, independence)
  • Navigating new peers and friendships

And so much more. Children need to have some resilience skills to successfully transition to a new year group. Some may need a little extra help to learn these skills. Others may need some adaptations to their environment. Sometimes both are required. Your child may need only a little help to get off to a flying support in September. If this is you, pick 1 or 2 strategies to boost your child’s confidence. If your child needs more significant support, you may find it valuable to meet with the new teacher or Head of Year early on in the term, to ensure as many of these strategies as possible are applied from September onwards.

In my sixteen years as a qualified clinical psychologist these are the strategies I have identified as most successful. Following these will help get your child off to a positive start when starting a new school or year group.

1. Close Co-operation With School

If your child finds transitions difficult it is essential that you nurture a positive relationship with your child’s school. If your child is anxious or has specific needs, don’t be afraid to contact the relevant staff members to make them aware.

2. Written Profile

A transition plan can make the difference between a thriving child and a child who feels like a fish out of water. Ideally the school, parents and the child will work closely to develop a structured transition plan. An essential element is a written profile. This might be a brief one-page document. It is a written profile of the child’s strengths, difficulties and needs. The plan is shared with the new members of staff ahead of the start of the new school year. This allows them to get a head start in understanding your child and making adaptations to the physical environment, peer groupings or their teaching style.

3. Extra Consideration to Friendships and Peer Groups

If you are a teacher reading this, I would just like to say I know you can’t give consideration to all children when you are placing children in teaching groups. However, for some children I think this is essential. If a child has taken years to make a deeper connection with another child, and does not have a wide circle of friends, then it may be detrimental to their well-being to separate that child from the other child. Many schools understand this and try hard to maintain friendships amongst children who struggle a little socially. As a parent, don’t be afraid to ask. Your child needs to feel safe and supported at school. A key friendship may be a crucial element.

4. Nurture Groups or Mentoring

Children who struggle with transitions are likely to be experiencing high stress and anxiety at the beginning of the new term. Find out if your school offers nurture groups or even 1-1 sessions exploring topics such as:

    1. Thoughts and worries about the transition.
    2. How to find help and support if I feel worried.
    3. Problem solving e.g transition board games, artwork, role play.

Secondary schools may offer older students as “buddies” or mentors for new students. With the right match, this can be transformational in building children’s confidence. In some cases, an adult mentor is most helpful, so check if your school can offer this. The adult mentor can have regular check-in sessions with your child, exploring concerns, communicating with other staff and acting fast to prevent crises when necessary.

starting a new school or year group
Photo by Jeremiah Lawrence at Unsplash

5. Written Information for Your Child to Digest

If your child is a bit worried about starting a new school or year group, use the Summer holidays to help them process the facts. What will be different? Will some things remain the same? What is exciting about the new school or year group, that your child can look forward to?

If your child’s school has already provided age-appropriate reading material for your child, fantastic. This might include details about:

  • uniform;
  • timetable;
  • a map;
  • school rules;
  • lunch arrangement;
  • equipment needed;
  • staff/people to help;
  • extra-curricular activities available.

If this hasn’t been provided, not to worry, you can make your own! I suggest getting a scrap book or note book and spending an afternoon researching all this information. Your child will then have all the information they need in a visual format. This means they can go over it as many times as they need to, allowing their brain to process the new information and prepare for a positive start in September.

6. Extra Transition Meetings or Visits

Several transition meetings/visits above and beyond any “standard” visits as a whole class, including at least one classroom visit.

7. Explanation and Advance Warning

What will my new school or year group be like?

Who will my new teacher be?

What will I be doing each day?

Some children need longer than others to adjust to the changes they will face. Their brains will adapt but this will happen more slowly than other children. They need as much explanation as possible regarding new teacher(s), new timetable, and other changes.

If your child’s school has provided a way for your child to have their questions answered before the Summer holidays, you are already onto a winner! If they haven’t don’t worry. Do however give them as many opportunities as possible to talk through their worries, concerns or questions. The techniques in this article I wrote about worry will help you get them prepared for the changes.

Strategies to support the transition to a new school or year group

Starting a New School or Year Group: Summary

Starting a new school or year group can feel monumental for both you and your child. Some children need extra support to help their brains cope with transitions. They will adjust, but may need extra time and preparation. If your child tends to struggle with transitions, act early to ensure a strong transition takes place. If you can help your child make a positive start to the year, this will set them up for a great year of learning, positive well-being, and strong social and emotional development!

Please read this article if your child is starting secondary school. I also recommend this article if your child is sensitive and will be starting secondary school.

Further Reading

How To Support Your Child If They Have “Failed” The Eleven Plus

To learn more tips for building confidence, well-being and helping your child handle emotions, join my Facebook group, Parent Tips For Positive Child Mental health UK!