Are you a parent of a school aged child, facing transition to secondary school? School transition is a significant time of change for all of you. Here is some guidance around friendships and managing change.
I have my second boy starting secondary school this September. We have the grammar school system in this area, like it or hate it, it exists. The issue is that it divides children who have spent their whole primary school lives together and they end up going in different directions for their secondary school lives. Who goes where parents have (relatively) little control over within the state system unless they were adamant that their child passed the 11 plus, but whatever the journey, we are left with a group of children adjusting to a big change in their lives.
These thoughts, however do not just relate to the secondary school transition though, they can be relevant to whatever stage your child (and you) are on this school journey.
When I transitioned from primary to secondary we had moved into a new house and a new area over the summer holidays. It meant I started school not knowing anyone at all. Pretty daunting but I made it work. What I came to realise that those ups and downs of secondary school life were not the easiest, but in having to be that person who nobody knew, and knew nobody, I developed skills of making friends and building relationships which I have carried into adulthood.
And this is why I am so passionate about this subject.
We all want our children to get on well in life, have a great group of friends who are supportive and kind, and come through school relatively unscathed and with minimal challenges.
We want this for our children because we love them and can’t bear the thought of anything happening to them.
So, we look for ways where we can minimise any potential harm our children can come to by making sure they have a solid group of friends to ‘fall back on’, to ‘hang around with’ so they are never on their own, always have a familiar face in the crowd and can feel confident about that fact.
Now, i’m going to tell you something. I am the mum to two very different boys. One has gone through his entire primary school life and moved into the secondary years without that clear ‘gang’ of friends. It used to worry me in the infant years when other parents used to bang on about their child’s ‘best friend’ and make me sad when he wasn’t invited to numerous birthday parties and sleepovers. However, my boy moved through his school days in an extremely positive way, resulting in being awarded ‘the most caring child of the year’ when he left infant school.
This award wasn’t a result of how popular he was, or how many friends he had, just because he loved just looking out for, and playing with whoever, whenever, without relying on a set group of friends.
You don’t need to make friends for your kids.
Creating opportunities for your children to make friends is much more important. Just because you have met some parents who you like and enjoy spending time with, does not mean that automatically your children will all become firm friends too. It would be lovely wouldn’t it, but it’s not helpful in the broader scheme of building and broadening children’s social skills to engineer those friendships so you know who they are spending their time with.
Sometimes children need support and guidance to understand friendships and how to engage with other children, but often they do this through observing you, you are their role model.
If you spend all your time with the same people, entwining lives and dramas together, then children will come to believe that this is how friendships work and approach friendships in that way too. This is how ‘cliques’ develop and they are not helpful social entities. These circles can be places where the most trouble stems from. Spending too much time with the same people means naturally people fall in and out with each other, and this is what will happen for your children too. They will learn to value people on the basis of whether they are part of this ‘inner circle’ and are more likely to exclude because of it. They won’t recognise this behaviour as unkind because you do it, right?
Now reading this may be uncomfortable but I have seen 2 children through to secondary school and have observed this behaviour every day.
It is totally natural for you to gravitate towards people you like and want to spend time with, but let your children make their own friends.
My youngest is a totally different child to my oldest, he met a boy in infant school who he didn’t know and they have been really good friends ever since. Us mums are friendly too, but that came as a consequence of our boys choosing to be friends. This son of mine does have a strong peer group, but these are friends he has made himself. He does get invites to parties and sleepovers, because he is different, and has developed his social skills in different ways. Sometimes it has been hard to observe the differences in their experiences, especially when my oldest used to ask why he wasn’t invited to parties, but taking a step back, I can see the value in both of their journeys.
Let you child find their own way, teach them how to manage change
This is especially significant when they move into their secondary school years. If we carry our own high levels of parental anxiety, we may look to minimise potential ‘issues’, like their child not knowing anyone in their transition to secondary, or not having a friend in their form. So we think we are helping when we start to try to engineer potential friendships by selecting children and having ‘get togethers’. I can guarantee that these are more for you than the children, and are completely unnecessary.
Children learn through real life experience, and our roles as parents is to guide them, help them manage change, and provide perspective and support with those experiences.
If you start selecting the children they are friends with before they even start, you are more likely to have an impact on their confidence on the first day to just go in and enjoy getting to know new people. Remember that each transition is a life skill for them. One day you won’t be there to arrange get togethers before they start work to meet all their colleagues, or even at university when they have a whole new load of friendships to make and establish.
It’s natural to be anxious about your child transitioning to a new school
Trust that they are competent and confident human beings, after all, you have worked hard to support them to be so. Guide them, but don’t let that anxiety take over to that point where you feel like you have to preempt everything for them. Often this can be fear that they get in with the ‘wrong crowd’. It’s a normal a natural fear, but trust that your values and your parenting will come into play here, we cannot hold on too tight forever as our children will never grow their wings to fly. Read how I can help with anxiety here.
And finally, I am right there with you in this moment in time. My youngest has no friends in his form when he moves up into secondary this September and although I was initially sad for him, the rational part of me knows this is absolutely fine. He will be with children in the same boat, and is likely to make new friendships from this experience, friendships which may last 5 minutes or into adulthood.
Whatever the experience for him, it doesn’t matter, developing social skills comes from variety, and from children finding out for themselves. You really don’t have to find out for them, have confidence in your child, and they will have confidence in themselves.
Love Clare x
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