My child is anxious about school transitions or changes

Changes at nursery or school, or college may feel big or overwhelming to your child. They might be starting a new school, or adjusting to new rules. They may be moving to a new school year or a new school (which is sometimes known as a ‘transition’).

Change or transitions at nursery

Starting or adjusting to new things at nursery can be hard for children. Before they start, or once they have started, you can:

  • Try gradually taking more time apart. Begin with being in another room so that your child feels less worried when they can’t see you.
  • Practise getting dressed and walking to nursery together.
  • Ask the nursery to let you know if your child is moving rooms. See if you can visit any new rooms with your child. Or ask a staff member to show them positives, such as new toys.
  • Talk to your child about what they do at nursery. Ask them how they’re feeling about it. Reassure them if they feel worried.
  • Use books like Llama Llama Misses Mama, I’m Starting Nursery or Lulu Loves Nursery to help them understand any changes. Talk to your child about any new routines and make sure they know what to expect.
  • Use settling-in days, if offered, to help your child to get used to new environments.

Change or transitions at primary school

Your child might feel worried about being in a bigger school. They can find the schedule makes them tired. Or they may be scared to go back after some time away.

Ask them how they’re feeling and listen to their worries. Reassure them that it’s OK to feel this way. It can help to:

  • Focus on positives by asking what they enjoy so far, if they’ve started already.
  • Think about how you can support them to make friends.
  • Read books like First Day at Bug School, Chu’s First Day at School or Dinosaur Starts School.
  • Share stories from your school days and the fun things you would do. Ask what they’re excited about.
  • Practise school-related activities or processes. Support them with anything they’re finding difficult.
  • When moving classes or going up a year, ask the school about transition days. These offer an opportunity to meet the teacher.
  • Talk to your child about changes in routine, such as PE days or new lunchtimes.

If a residential trip is planned with the school, explore any worries your child has about sleeping away from home.

Change or transitions at secondary school and college

Secondary school and college feel daunting for a lot of young people. While your child is at secondary school, they’ll going through a period of brain development and working out who they are. They may also feel under more academic pressure.

  • Talk with your child about what worries they have. Help them to problem-solve these where possible.
  • Help your child see what they can change and what they can’t. The worry tree activity or the circle of control are useful for this.
  • Let them try new things.
  • Talk to them about healthy relationships.
  • Classes are likely to be mixed up when GCSE years start. Talk to your child about talking to new people. Encourage them to interact with people have chosen the same subject interests as them.
  • If your child is studying for exams, think about how you can help them manage this.

The Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families has a video about adjusting to secondary school.

We also have advice for supporting your child with anxious feelings. Or if your child is refusing to go to school, there are some things you can do.

Change or transitions at university

Going to university can feel like an exciting but daunting adventure. It may be your child’s first experience of living away from home or on their own.

Try to give them opportunities to learn skills like cooking, cleaning and paying bills so they feel confident about these before they go. It’s OK if you don’t do this, though – you can always support them to develop these skills from a distance.

  • Encourage them to sign up to groups or societies, and to introduce themselves to their flatmates.
  • Help them research where they can get support for their wellbeing and sexual health.
  • Suggest they research their nearest supermarkets, local GP, hospital, bank and post office.
  • Share any tips you have from your own experiences of education and managing work. Make sure they feel comfortable asking for help from lecturers if they’re unsure about anything.
  • Talk to your child about their expectations of university. Let them know it’s OK to feel disappointed or find things hard at times.
  • Make sure they know you’re there for them whenever they need you to listen or help with something.
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This advice was written by our experienced Parent Talk coaches. Parent Talk is a free online service for parents and carers, provided by the charity Action for Children. For more advice, message our parenting coaches with our online chat.

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