ToolKit & Resources – Transitions – Full description
Transitions, or periods of significant change, are a normal part of life and can provide children and young people with new experiences and the opportunity to build resilience. Nevertheless, transitions can be frightening to the young person and can have a negative impact on their wellbeing. Periods of transition can often be anticipated such as the change from primary to secondary school, whereas other transitions may be unpredictable and personal such as those resulting from family difficulties or serious illness or disability. In all instances, transition periods must be managed carefully to support children and young people’s health and wellbeing.
Signs a child or young person is struggling with a transition:
Transition periods can be stressful and frightening, if a child or young person is struggling with a transition, they may:
Have trouble making new friends
Appear isolated and alone
Have trouble coping with daily routines
Show disinterest in school and extracurricular activities
Feel as though they do not belong
If you suspect a child or young personwhois experiencing emotional distress, and are concerned about their safety, follow your schools safeguarding policies and ensure your concerns are passed onto a Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL) immediately.
Supporting children and young people with transitions:
As an educational practitioner, you can help children and young people prepare for and manage changes in their life by providing a safe space where they can openly discuss any concerns they have. It is important to remain supportive and listen to their concerns without judgement, focusing on what the young person has to say and providing them with appropriate support.
Involving parents and carers in discussions around transitions can help you to further understand the young person’s emotional and academic needs, whilst aiding the development of support plans to ensure the young person receives appropriate support. Discussions with parents and carers may lead to sensitive conversations around their child’s mental health and wellbeing, for guidance on how to approach these conversations, please see our section.
Where transitions are anticipated, you can help to prepare children and young people by including activities exploring transitions and addressing any concerns children may have within your usual classroom teaching.
Summarised below are a range of suggestions to support children and young people manage anticipated transitions across their educational journey.
Early Years and Primary School Transitions:
Smooth and supported transitions are essential for supporting children’s wellbeing, self-esteem, confidence and independence. As an educational practitioner, you can help to prepare a child for early years settings or primary school by working collaboratively with the child’s parents and carers and by providing a nurturing environment where the child can thrive. Whilst this preparation period provides an opportunity to learn more about the child’s interests and individual needs, it is important to remember that this period is vital for helping the child to feel confident and is not about assessing the child academically.
Here are a few examples of how you and your setting can support children during the transition to early years settings or primary school:
Ensure effective communication with parents and carers is maintained
Encourage the child and their family to visit the setting in advance
Take photographs of the child during any visits to the setting, these images can be show to the child during the transition phase to help familiarise themselves with the environment.
Utilise key adults during the preparation, transition and settling in phases
Make use of social stories or books which explore starting school
Remember that what may not seem scary for an adult can be scary for a young person, and that they might have worries about specific parts of the transition they are anticipating or facing
Transitioning to Secondary School:
Often, many children will have the same worries about transitioning to secondary school but may not feel comfortable sharing their concerns with adults or peers in fear that they are alone in their thoughts. Classroom activities and discussions are a great way of exploring common concerns whilst assuring children that they are not alone.
A range of classroom activities and resources have been developed to support those who are preparing to start or have recently started secondary school – check out our Resources section for some ideas!
Transitioning to University:
Starting university is likely to be an exciting prospect for students but poses new challenges that students may find daunting. Each student will face different challenges during their transition to university but there are some common challenges that many will face. We spoke to some students at the University of Birmingham to find out what they struggled with during their transition to university.
Accessing mental health support
“I underestimated the difficult situations that I would experience and so I didn’t do much research on the mental health support that is available from the University. I would advise newcomers to think about the support they need.”
Most Universities have support structures in place to support students with mental health needs. Encourage students to become familiar with the support structures at their elected University so that they are aware of what support is available. A local GP can be a good first point of contact for mental health issues and students who are registered with a non-local GP may not be able to access health or mental health support from local services.
“I came to University thinking it would be a party and that I would be happy all the time because that’s what you see on the prospectuses. You can feel a bit like a failure if you’re not happy all the time as this is meant to be the ‘best time’ of your life.”
Managing expectations is an important part of managing wellbeing. University will be packed with enriching and joyous experiences, but there will also be parts that are very stressful and very difficult. These unpleasant and difficult parts of our experiences will have an impact on feelings and behaviours often causing sadness or stress. These feelings are very normal and it’s important to ensure that students know that these things are okay and that there are ways that they can build resilience to help them get through those difficult parts.
“It’s okay to give yourself some slack and not be so hard on yourself about assignments and getting work done – you don’t have to feel guilty for having down time and doing other things.”
The academic pressures of university can be a source of distress for students. It’s important that students are still kind to themselves during these difficult periods and think about the ways that they will manage their workload and self-care to reduce the impact of exam stress. Encourage students to think about how they might balance their work and social lives, where they might schedule time for self-care and the things that they enjoy outside of their courses. Sometimes being so caught up in the work can lead to self-neglect.
Drinking, substance use and peer pressure
“Peer pressure is a huge part of University culture especially when it comes to partying and social events in the first and second year. It’s okay to say no or not go out if you don’t want to.”
During the first year of university the pressure to make friends and ‘fit in’ can make some students engage in events or behaviours that they are not comfortable with including attending social events that the student is not comfortable with, drinking alcohol or taking illicit substances. Drinking can be a big part of student culture, and it is important that students are aware that it’s okay to choose not to take part if they don’t want to. For students that do want to take part, it’s important that they are aware of healthy drinking behaviours.
“I found it hard to develop meaningful friendships within year one, which is a critical period that you need to rely on people as you’re adjusting to a new environment. My meaningful relationships were formed in year 2.”
While some students may find it easy to immediately make friends at university, many students struggle in the first year to make friends and find a group that they can connect with. As students are navigating a new environment and are often nervous in the first months it can take time for deep and meaningful connections to form as students get to know each other. Students might feel isolated during this time not knowing where to turn for opportunities to connect to others or to share things that are bothering them.
Students from minoritized communities might be anxious about opportunities to meet other students from their community group and might consider joining a group or society that caters to their community.
Encouraging students to think about these factors beforehand will help to prepare students to start thinking socially before they join university. Some students might find it helpful to lean on their existing support networks during this time. If they are living in shared accommodation, they might want to utilise social spaces to find social connections. If they have a particular interest or are interested in picking up a new hobby, they might join a relevant society. Other options include speaking to wellbeing or support staff at the University who might be able to support students to find a supportive peer/peer group.
Supporting children with Autism Spectrum Conditions:
Children with may find transition periods and changes to routine difficult. It is important to consider that changes to year group and teaching staff can be challenging and must be managed carefully.
As suggested by the National Autistic Society (2020), educational practitioners can support children with Autism during transition phases by:
Arranging one to one meeting for the child with their new teacher(s)
Allowing the child to visit their new classroom at a quiet time
Making use of buddy systems
Personalising the transition process to meet the needs of the individual child
Arrange visits to the new educational setting to allow the child to become familiar with the environment and meet their new teaching staff