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Primary to Secondary School Transitions

Updated: 1 day ago

Graduating to high school can be difficult academically, emotionally and socially

We have all done it - but that doesn't mean the transition from primary to secondary school is easy. It can be a highly stressful time for kids 10 to 12 years old. New school, new teachers, new subjects, new friends - it's a LOT for a young one to tackle. Plus the added academic pressure and workload, the awkwardness of puberty and being surrounded by those tall, important-looking year 13s, I am glad I don't have to do it again!

We, at Cascade, like to think about it like buying a new pair of shoes - we often talk about breaking into a new pair of shoes and that takes time, time of walking in them, moving around in them, till they feel comfortable and part of your closet. High school is the same! Before expecting academic results, we need to give our children time to settle into this new world. Here are certain things we can do as parents / guardians to make the transition easier:

1.Support and empower them - building confidence

To tackle this transition, a key step is instilling confidence in your children. Specifically, academic self-concept or self-perception is a strong indicator of a smooth transition

What this means is that kids that feel comfortable and confident in their shoes find it easier to adapt in their secondary school. What does this actually look like? First is noticing actions your kid takes and praising or appreciating it. Finishing their homework without constant reminders, helping out more around the home, overcoming their fear and enrolling in a class or after school activity - all deserve a pat on the back.

Plus, you can encourage independence at home to further build their confidence. This can look like allowing them to make their own way to a friend’s house or an activity (Many parents consider Hong Kong safe enough to encourage travel-independence from an early age). It could also be that they are able to set their own schedule at home. Or it could be that they are allowed to stay up a little later at night. Accomplishing tasks builds self-esteem. It is also worth adding these suggestions as early as the last year of primary school. This gives time for your child to build resilience and confidence.

2. Allow for emotional exploration

Another often overlooked aspect of the transition from primary to secondary is the emotions. We often find ourselves focusing on their grades and general well-being and forget that along with school transitions, our kids are going through a very personal transition - puberty! The social, emotional and biological changes can have a strong impact on their relationships, education and even mental health.

Do try connecting with them at an emotional level. Yes, even if they are embarrassed by you or don’t want to have anything to do with you, as their parent you are still their first point of contact for any difficulties. One powerful activity is the creation of a ‘worry box’. Any of their concerns about school, relationships, body, etc, could be written down, and then tackled one by one. This can be through talking to others or doing research. Best part? Tearing it up at the end to feel like they’ve conquered their fear.

3. Encourage building friendships

Many studies have found that supportive friend relationships and social acceptance at school can make the transition a lot smoother. And this is not just for emotional support, having someone to take notes from if they’re sick is very helpful. This doesn’t mean they need to be the most popular person at school - we’re not in a ‘Mean Girls’ after all! But it is important for your kid to find their friendship group. One way is to encourage them is to join extracurricular activities, a great way to meet new people who have the same interests as them. If they are struggling, you can also work through how to approach meeting and talking to new people. It can also be helpful to do some role plays to practice at home.

4.Build their organizational skills -

Secondary school has your child taking more subjects and maybe even moving around classes. There is more homework, books and resources. So it is essential to help your child become more organized. This can range from helping them create a calendar (digital or on paper), to note down all their activities, homework due dates and tests/exams. It’s also important to help them prioritize, this could be based on due date, how challenging it is, or just how long it might take to finish. Also, having an organized home, specifically a study area which has all their materials easily accessible can also make life easier. It might need a bit of trial and error to find out what works for them, but developing strategies now will be super helpful in the long term.

5.Not focus solely on academic performance (keep expectations real):

As parents, we want to ensure the best for our kids, and recognize the importance of grades, but it is not the only way to track learning and progress. Becoming a kind, thoughtful, creative, well-adjusted individual is also part of growing up. Plus, the transition is a particularly cognitively challenging time. Lots of research finds that moving to a secondary school can have a negative impact on grades. It’s not your kids fault if they go from As to Cs. Your kid is adjusting to a larger school, new relationships with peers and teachers, greater academic independence and more expectations. This slow down of achievement or differences in grades can have a negatively impact their motivation and engagement, as well as their confidence. So, please please please, explain this to them - and keep encouraging them to try their best. It will take time, but they will bounce back upon adjusting to their new situation. As a parent, I know it’s vital to be patient, be supportive, tap into various support network - the school, the teachers, counsellors, or reach out to professional academic coaches.

6. Be willing to get outside help without overwhelming them

Finally, if your child is truly struggling in any area, be it emotionally, adjusting academically or even in a particular subject, it is okay to get outside help. Encourage self-advocacy, i.e. allow your child to feel free to ask you or others for help. If the desire is coming from them, it will have a greater impact. So whether it's a therapist, a tutor or a learning coach, there are many benefits of working with an expert.

As a learning coach, I have found that helping children feel it is okay to talk about their emotions, difficulties and desire for help, is more important that chasing that grade. And if you as parents or your child still have concerns, that’s okay too! Reach out for a consultation on how to best support your child academically, socially and emotionally, through the transition from primary to secondary school.

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