Top 3 Tips for a Smooth Transition Back to School


Nita J Y / Foter / CC BY-SA

As the first day back to school after the long summer holiday looms in our house we are once again facing the logistics of what for us always seems to be a drama.

It seems that at the end of every school holiday we go through a period of anxiety about the imminent return to school – a feature of many households I know, not just those of HSCs. But for HSCs this is more than the anticipation of having to start getting up earlier again, the having to wear uniform, the not being able to ‘play’ all day.

For HSCs this transition is also laden with questions and anxiety about what the new year will be like; about whether the teacher will be as nurturing and understanding as they remember or, if they have a new teacher, concern about whether they will be kind, understanding and fair; there will be concerns about the demands they will face and whether they will cope; there’s the knowledge of all the busyness, the concentration, the socialising, the new kids at school, the after-school clubs, the new responsibilities, all of which contribute to those feelings of overwhelm (which is easier to cope with when there is the freedom of the holidays to pick and choose what you do and who you see); and for us this year, there’s the anxiety about the tests my HSC knows they will be subjected to this year, for which he is setting himself high expectations already, and the knowledge that this is the last year before the HUGE transition to Secondary School (yes we have not even started year 6 yet and he is already worrying about year 7).

The build up started before the end of term, just before the summer holidays, and we managed to delay the ‘worry’ by writing it on a piece of paper and putting it away until ‘September’ – this seemed to work, but it had not forgotten. On Sunday, at a local music and food festival, he suddenly looked very sad and announced that he wanted to go home. As he sat hiding his head with tears dripping down his face, he quietly said he didn’t want to go back to school. For him this was not a statement about him not liking school, he actually really enjoys school. This was a reflection of the fact that he has relished the freedom from routine of the holidays, and the control this gives him. It was also statement about his anxieties about what this school year means: about tests; about being one of the big kids and a role model; about this being the last step before Secondary School; and about “growing-up”.

I am now used to the fact that my HSC finds these transitions tricky, and I would like to share with you my top three strategies.

1. Think and Plan Ahead

If I can possibly avoid it I don’t leave any of the preparations for school until the last weekend before school starts. This can seem like a ‘sudden’ switch from holiday to school mode, and my HSC doesn’t respond well to this. Instead I do some at the beginning of the holiday, whilst school is still in his mind (so new school shoes, uniform and so on), and then a week or so before school starts I gently begin to introduce school into our conversation, perhaps by talking about some of the things he enjoys that he’ll be doing again (like Guitar lessons), or the friends he’ll see again that he hasn’t had chance to catch up with over the break. If he is going into a new class with a new teacher, I take the time to talk about the new teacher and to discuss any questions or concerns my HSC may have.

2. Acknowledge

I have learned not to analyse too much or try to rationalise any feelings my HSC expresses about this transition, without first acknowledging those feelings. This acknowledgment is sometimes enough in itself to alleviate the feelings being expressed, but it is absolutely vital if I am to have any success in working on a coping strategy for my HSC. I have learned that if I don’t acknowledge, he doesn’t open up, and I believe this is because to acknowledge shows empathy, and it proves that I am listening and understand. For my HSC, feeling listened to and understood is the foundation for any problem solving we may do together.

3. Be Patient

Whilst it’s not always easy, because my HSC doesn’t always want to talk on cue, and I often sense there is something ‘wrong’ long before it comes out in the ‘open’, waiting for my HSC to be ready to share is far more effective than insisting on a conversation when he is not ready, or on a course of action if he just does not want to comply. Stern, directive parenting just leads to the shutters coming down, and everything then takes much longer, and ends up being much more stressful. I have also found that for my HSC, ‘scheduled’ time to talk about concerns often does not work. If his head is not in the right place, he is not prepared to share, and that’s that. So I have to be patient, and I absolutely have to be available to listen when he is ready – at which point we achieve LOADS. As someone who is Highly Sensitive too, I have to work hard to not take it personally when he doesn’t want to share, and I have to accept that sometimes I may need to listen when I really don’t feel like it because my own sponge is becoming saturated. At these times I ask for 5 minutes so I can be ready to give my undivided attention, which is short enough time that the ‘moment’ is not lost, but long enough that I can try to wring some of the water out and get my head space ready.

This year I will also need to focus on supporting my HSC through the challenges of Year 6 and preparing for Secondary school, which will be new territory and a whole different ball-game in terms of transitions, but I will still keep these three key things at the heart of how I approach it – I’ll keep you posted!

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2 thoughts on “Top 3 Tips for a Smooth Transition Back to School

  1. Oonagh

    Can relate to the strategies introduced in this post, and feel they are not only relevant to going back to school. However this is a transition that has plenty of potential for overwhelm.
    We didn’t have a problem with the return to school, though with two close friends moving away over the summer I’m not assuming we’re out of the woods yet.
    Going back to the strategies in this post then “acknowledge” really resonates with me, and as I write this I can hear my son demanding to be listened to. Sometimes this is all that he needs, at other times it is a means to starting a deeper dialogue.
    Can also relate to the need to wait, but am not good at it!

  2. Nicole Gabriel Post author

    Thanks, and I know what you mean Oonagh, Patience is not one of my virtues either! I also find there are times when acknowledging is hard too, when I am in that place of having a full bucket and my needs are not being acknowledged – lots of deep breathing required then! Any magic tips you discover we’d love to hear about!

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