Tip Sheets - Transitioning

Information sheet for parents and carers.

At this time of year, many children and young people are preparing to start school, tertiary education or work. Some children will be starting school for the very first time, others will be starting their first year of high school, while some young people will be starting university or TAFE or entering the work force.

Children and young people regularly contact Kids Helpline about concerns relating to these life transitions.

What is transitioning?

A transition marks moving from one part of life to another, for instance starting school, university or work, getting married, having children etc. For children and young people some key transitions are around school and work, as they mark milestones in young lives.

Starting at a new school, college or workplace is a normal part of life for young people. However, it can create mixed feelings of stress, anxiety, excitement and nervousness. These feelings can be due to the uncertainty associated with change as well as changes that are occurring within young people at this time in their lives.

When young people move from primary school to high school or high school to university or TAFE, they experience substantial changes regarding expectations placed on them as well as changes to the structure of their environment.

For example, it can be a challenge for children starting high school to understand that they are required to change rooms for each class and that each class is taught by a different teacher. They may also grieve over the loss of their primary school friends or worry about things like being bullied, being around so many older kids, or finding their way around a bigger school.

For young people starting university, it can be challenging to adapt to an irregular daily routine as well as a change in attitudes by staff members regarding class attendance and expected behaviours.

Some research has suggested that transitioning to high school in particular can be challenging to young people compared with other experiences.[2][3] Young people may be both excited about the benefits that these change may bring (i.e. new experiences, more freedom), as well as anxious (i.e. leaving old peer groups behind, higher expectations of achievement).

Problems associated with transitioning

Transitioning is an ongoing process that can continue long after entering a new environment.[4] Young people may encounter difficulties at a number of stages of the transition process, with the earliest problems occurring prior to starting at a new school, college or workplace.

While issues associated with transitioning vary, research has identified several difficulties that are typically encountered during these periods, including:

  • lower self-esteem
  • fears about new social situations involving older students
  • difficulty managing their time
  • problems coping with increased academic stress
  • disruption of previous peer relationships
  • disruption of familiar routines and procedures

These stressors may appear as anxiety and frustration and result in negative or disruptive behaviours. Such behaviours can be problematic[4], and can make the transitioning process even more difficult for the young person.

Transitioning and academic achievement

Many of the problems listed above have been linked to lower levels of academic achievement in school students.[5][6] Furthermore, in cases where transitioning to a new school environment has been difficult, and particularly where levels of academic achievement are low, many young people display higher rates of truancy and school drop out at the end of their compulsory schooling period.

What influences the success of transitioning?

Research shows that successful transitioning is dependent on several factors[4][7] including:

  • Academic preparation - higher levels of school readiness means that they will find the new work easier
  • Emotional stability - happier young people are more likely to adjust to being in a new school or entering work
  • Family situation - a supportive family environment assists young people in preparing for and adjusting to a new situation
  • Ability to make friends - students that are able to make friends easily find school more enjoyable
  • Sense of belonging - young people who feel like they ‘fit in’ tend to adjust more easily
  • Family-school cooperation - a good working relationship between families and their school can help provide support for young people starting school. Family involvement in the school community has also been linked to improvements in student-teacher relationships as well as a young person's attitude towards school[8]
  • Resilience - young people who can handle change undergo less stressful transitioning experiences[9]

What can parents/carers do to help?

Young people need different types of emotional and practical support when transitioning, depending on their age and developmental stage. For example, a child going into grade one will require a lot more practical help compared with a child starting their first year of high school. Below are some general tips that may be useful to help your child through a transition.

Keep talking and develop a supportive family environment

Research shows that young people who have positive relationships with their parents/carers are more likely to have positive relationships with their teachers as well.[10]

  • Discuss the changes your child can expect to face when making a transition. You may be able to share experiences when you were growing up
  • Normalise feelings of anxiety and uncertainty for your child. Ask them what they think the challenges will be for them and discuss potential ways to handle these challenges
  • For young children, it may be useful to read stories together about starting school
  • If your child is anxious about whether or not they will be able to make friends, discuss possible ways that they can initiate conversation with new people and work towards forming new social groups

Prepare for the new routine and environment

  • For younger children particularly, it may be helpful to arrange for them to meet their new teacher. For older kids, it may also be helpful to familiarise them with the layout of their new school and how to get around it
  • Practice the upcoming morning and bedtime routine a few days beforehand, so young people get into a regular pattern of sleeping and waking and won't be too sleepy at the start of their first day!
  • Ensure they eat breakfast each day so that they have the energy to focus on their studies
  • Help them prepare for their new environment by providing the equipment they will need. This may include pens, pencils, notebooks, USB sticks or any other items they may require. Schools may have hire schemes for text books and other school requirements if you have financial constraints
  • If your child is catching public transport to school or walking/cycling, help them get familiar with how they will get to and from school. This may involve a practice run or showing them which bus/train to catch and where to get off
  • Ensure they have the correct uniform (if required) and that they are able to dress themselves correctly according to the requirements of the school
  • Attend an open day or orientation program together. Lots of schools hold these to familiarise students with the school and how it operates. They are also useful as they give young people an opportunity to find out the kinds of programs the school runs that may be of interest to them

Be available when things get tough

If your child experiences problems when transitioning, they may start on the first day of school or they may take some time to develop. Young people may enjoy their new environment at first but become troubled by difficulties later on. You can help address these problems if they arise by:

  • Being available -provide them with opportunities to discuss problems with you and help them to think of potential ways to overcome these challenges. Be alert for signs of difficulty in the young person as they may not always tell you about them
  • Attending parent-teacher interviews - this will give you another perspective on how the young person in your care is going at school. This is particularly useful to help determine whether they are keeping pace with the increased levels of academic achievement expected of them

Support them in the ongoing transition process

  • Encourage them to do homework and revise their in-class material so that they don't fall behind in their academic progress. Be available in case they have any questions
  • Provide opportunities to develop their social networks by encouraging them to invite other students over outside of school hours

For young people with special needs

If your child has a disability or special needs, make use of any relevant programs, staff and facilities that the school provides.

  • Prior to the start of the school year, take your child to meet the school's Disabilities Officer (if there is one), or alternatively, the guidance counsellor/student support service, so that any necessary adjustments to their schooling can be identified and planned for
  • Provide the school with any relevant information regarding your child's disability so that the school can monitor their transitioning experience and deliver necessary interventions if difficulties arise

For parents/carers of tertiary students

  • Support your child's decision regarding the particular field of study they wish to engage in
  • Discuss possible assignment/study habits that they may find useful
  • Encourage them to attend open days and orientation programs where possible
  • Encourage them to seek out student support services if academic or personal difficulties arise

For parents/carers of young people entering the workforce

  • Discuss your experience in the workforce and the types of expectations that employers may have of their employees
  • Encourage your child to be suitably dressed for work, punctual and to develop a positive attitude to their work
  • Assist them in finding relevant support services if they are encountering difficulties at work
  • Encourage them to make use of vocational education and training (VET) programs. These programs can ease the transition from school to work by providing skills that will make them more attractive to employers.

Who can I contact for more information?

You may wish to contact your local parenting help service/s for further information.

Helpful links

General links:

The following links are NSW based but are applicable to other locations:

References

  1. Benner, A., & Graham, S. (2009). The Transition to High School as a Developmental Process Among Multiethnic Urban Youth. Child Development, 80(2), 356.
  2. Victorian Department of School Education. (1992). The ministerial review of school-entry age in Victoria. Melbourne.
  3. Seidman, E., Aber, J. L., Allen, L., & French, S. E. (1996). The impact of the transition to high school on the self-system and perceived social context of poor urban youth. American Journal of Community Psychology, 24(4), 489-515.
  4. Cohen, J., & Smerdon, B. (2009). Tightening the Dropout Tourniquet: Easing the Transition From Middle to High School. Preventing School Failure, 53(3), 177-184
  5. Duchesne, S., Larose, S., Guay, F., Vitaro, F., & Tremblay, R.E. (2005). The transition from elementary to high school: The pivotal role of mother and child characteristics in explaining trajectories of academic functioning. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 29, 409-417
  6. Farrar, E., Goldfeld, S., & Moore, T. (2007). School Readiness. Perth: Australian Research Alliance for Children & Youth.
  7. Dockett, S., Perry, B., Howard, P., Whitton, D., & Cusack, M. (2002). Australian children starting school. Childhood Education: International Focus Issue, 78(6), 349-353.
  8. Dearing, E., Kreider, H., & Weiss, H.B. (2008). Increased Family Involvement in School Predicts Improved Child Teacher Relationships and Feelings About School for Low-Income Children. Marriage & Family Review, 43(3/4), 226-254.
  9. AIHW. (2009). Australia's welfare 2009. Australia's Welfare No. 9. Cat. No. AUS 117. Canberra: AIHW.
  10. O'Connor, E., & McCartney, K. (2006). Testing Associations Between Young Children's Relationships With Mothers and Teachers. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98(1), 87-98.