Updated: Apr 18
*updated June 2022
It’s that time of year for schools in England and Wales when staff are ramping up transition arrangements for the next academic year, and our children may be showing us in a variety of ways that they are unsettled by this.
For children who’ve experienced trauma, this time of year (coming towards the end of term) can be especially hard – those feelings of loss, of significant change, can resurface and can lead to heightened anxiety. For them (and for so many others, especially off the back of another up and down year thanks to Covid plus continuing political and economic turbulence), how endings are supported is just as important as everything that goes in to preparing them for new beginnings (whether that be going up a school year, or transitioning from nursery to primary, primary to secondary, or secondary to college).
Here are just a few considerations you may find useful to support your child through the end of this final summer term.
Hopefully school is working with you to ensure that a clear transition plan is in place and underway, based on your child’s specific needs, so you’ve had some input, know what to expect and when – use this to talk to your child at home about it at the right time for them.
Check that your child’s transition plan includes going back to basics with things like knowing where the nearest toilet to their new classroom is, where they will put their bag, where they will put their water bottle, how safe the classroom is – things that can cause real anxiety for children who’ve experienced trauma can be around basic needs.
Ask the next teacher if they would be happy to send an email (or postcard) to your child around a week before the start of the next term to tell them a bit about their summer break, and to say how much they are looking forward to welcoming them to their class. Obviously this suggestion comes with a caveat that teachers need a break over the summer and this request may be over and above the usual kind of request they might receive from parents.
Open up a space for your child to share their worries – you will know best how to do that, but always worth remembering the power of play for connecting up with feelings, or of just taking small opportunities to check in from time to time, being curious with them. They may also prefer to write their worries down and pop them in a jar; or for older children, maybe they might be encouraged to journal, or write a blog that never gets published? Theraplay, art or role play activities might be useful in supporting your child to express their worries - whatever works for them.
Start a dialogue with the next class teacher where possible (if different to the current one), share your insights, concerns and hopes for the start of the new year, and agree the best mode of communication going forward – preferred modes can differ between teachers, so it’s useful to have that discussion in advance of the next school year, when everything can be a bit frenetic.
Check there will be an opportunity for your child to say goodbye properly to key staff and their peers so there is a clear end point to the year where the teacher communicates what will happen after the summer holiday once again. Getting your child/young person involved in writing in or making thank you cards to hand over can be a good opportunity to support clear messaging around this end point so they are involved in saying thank you in their own way.
Ask their teacher if it might be possible for them to pop in at the beginning of next term to say hello. Children who’ve experienced loss can feel endings particularly keenly, but messaging in the vein of ‘you’ll be moving on to a different teacher after the holidays, but I value our teacher-pupil relationship and will still be around even if you’re not in my class anymore – I still care’, or similar, can be very reassuring.
Consider whether a small photo of their current teacher and/or a small transition item of some kind might be helpful for your child to take away with them at the end of term.
Similarly, ask for photos of the next class and of the future key staff that you can look at with your child/young person as appropriate over the summer – helps with familiarisation. Even better, video walkthroughs are very helpful - can a member of staff walk the path from the school entrance to the classroom and video it?
With younger children, read the book The Invisible String (or sit down with them and enjoy this recording of it) and explore the concept of everyone being connected, even when not together.
Arrange playdates (they may be short - whatever your child can manage), with peers - look ahead to those who will be in their next class as well as friends they've already made.
Manage your expectations with ends and starts of terms – if your child is older and has been with you a while, you’ll know the drill, and you’ll know that these are waves to ride out as we support our children with navigating their way through another change the best way we can. Look after yourselves.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I hope helpful. I’ll be back in the summer break with another blog around supporting your child with new school year beginnings.
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If your child's setting is interested in receiving attachment and trauma training, I have a number of options available for the next academic year - see the following webpage. I also have a webinar 'What you need to know about school: for adopters, foster carers and special guardians' which is accessible immediately for a small fee.