Nurturing Your Child Through Transition
The use of the words parents and families throughout this module refers to all types of home arrangements and parental figures, including carers and legal guardians, who care for and rear children. Any images of people in this module do not indicate these people were in any way part of the project or are in agreement with any information contained in this module. Except where otherwise indicated, and save for any material in this document owned by a third party or protected by a trade mark, a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia Licence (https://creativecommons. org/licenses/by/3.0/au/deed.en) applies to this document.
This project was funded by the Australian Government Department of Education through the Grants and Awards Programme 2015-16 to 2018-19.
First published July 2019
Cover image: Courtesy of St Therese’s Bentley Park
Nurturing your child through transition
Change is inevitable through the course of your child’s life as their world extends from their primary carers to the extended family or to structured childcare.
Your attitude as a parent and how you handle times of change will guide how your child approaches, experiences and remembers change.
Through your nurturing role as a parent, you will know best how your child responds to change. You will have seen it through their transitions beyond the family and through the inevitable changes of routine that take place in most families.
Every child is different and has their own way of responding.
Starting primary school is a significant event for your child and so understanding their disposition and then putting in place good planning are key to making the transition as smooth as possible.
Encouraging independence and building their capability to do increasingly complex tasks steers them in the right direction to meet new challenges.
The important thing is to know your child and know what they are capable of and how to get the best out of them. This module will assist you in knowing the right questions to ask and some of the reactions and emotions to expect. This module will also direct you to resources where you can find out more information.
What you can do as a parent
Primary school is a significant milestone in your child’s life marking a key step towards independence. Parents and families can help smooth this important part of their child’s psychological and sociological development by nurturing them with extra attention and care. Some ways of doing this include:
• Ensuring your child’s speech and oral language are appropriately developed for their age. This can be assured by a check-up with your local child nurse or speech pathologist - if you are in an area which has access to these professionals. It is sensible to address and (if necessary) deal with this before your child commences school. In fact, the earlier any speech or oral language issues are identified, the easier they are usually to fix. Challenges in speech can affect academic progress but, also more importantly, your child’s well-being. Additionally, hearing and fine and gross motor skills should also be checked in order to give your child the best possible start.
• Through communication with the school, familiarising yourself with school routines which you can then practise with your child in the weeks and months before they start school.
• Visiting the school and finding out where everything is - the office, kindy classroom, bathrooms, etc. This will help you as a parent to feel confident on your child’s first day at school and this confidence will subsequently assist in helping your child feel more secure as well.
• Finding out if the school uses bells or music, e.g. for the start of school or lunch break and simulate this or walk with them by the school at this time so they can hear the school bells/ music. This is particularly important if your child is sensitive to noise.
• Making sure you have everything they need so as not to cause stress - library bag, hat, shoes, correct uniform and anything else on the school booklist.
• Making sure they can toilet themselves – practise putting their hand up and what they need to say if they need to leave the classroom.
• Starting to develop in your child a growth mindset. Many children develop ‘perfectionist’ type qualities and tend to get upset when everything is not perfect. Nurture a growth mindset by encouraging your child to try new things and help them to see that not getting it right first time is okay. Encourage them to take risks and to keep trying, using different ways to achieve success.
If you are the parent of a child with additional needs, it is advisable to contact the school in advance to develop a plan to address your child’s needs appropriately. This will help to ensure a smooth transition from home to school.
What you can do with your child
Some actions to undertake with your child could include:
• Practise driving past the school and being positive and excited with your child about their new journey.
• Acknowledge that it may be a little scary the first day but reassure your child that you and the teacher will be there to help.
• Play ‘pretend’ school at home and practise the various elements of the day ,e.g. recess, sitting quietly, listening carefully, placing their belongings on a hook and hanging their hat on top.
• Make acquaintance with some older children who attend the school (children of friends) and ask them to teach your child some of the games they play during recess.
• Let them try on their new uniform a couple of times before they start school and ensure that they can manage things like going to the bathroom in it. It is also a good idea to practise putting their jumper/scarf etc. into their bag if they remove it during the day.
If you haven’t already been reading to your child every night, start now. Reading with your children is one of the most important things you can do as your child’s first educator. Get your child involved by asking them to pick the book they would like to read. Ask open ended questions like ‘why do you like this particular book?’ Ask them to tell you some of the story in their own words. Join the local library where they will not only familiarise themselves with the process of borrowing books, but have access to whatever they want to learn about.
Many children will come to school being able to access information through “Google” but it is so important for them to know about books as well.
Our children can learn so much through nature play. However, instead of letting them loose on a playground by themselves, go for a walk as a family or with some friends. Ask your child to find a stick the same length as their shoe. Find lots of stones and ask your child to put them in groups of ten. Play ‘Kim’s game’ where you run for 10 paces, then walk for 10 paces. Ask them to identify trees they may be able to safely climb and encourage them to do so.
All these activities not only help to put learning into context, but more importantly help in developing your own engagement in your child’s learning, which is such an important skill for parents to develop. A most beneficial side effect of course is that it enhances the unique and special relationship between you and your child.
IMPACT ON CHILDREN
"Parents and families are children’s first teachers and they continue to help their children to learn and thrive throughout the school years. When their family’s love and support is combined with the expert knowledge of teachers, it can have a significant and lasting impact:
• Children can be more likely to enjoy learning and be motivated to do well.
• Children can have better relationships with other children, improved behaviour and greater confidence.
• Children can do better at school and are more likely to graduate and go on to college, TAFE or university.
• Children can be less likely to miss days at school."
Extract from the Parent Fact Sheet, ACT Government, Education Directorate - available at:
Researchers highlight that the family and effective parenting are central to children’s mental health. Parenting practices and the quality of the parentchild relationship have implications for children’s development in the early years as well as their academic achievement, social competence and behaviour at school.
Understanding the range of changes a child is likely to encounter as they transition from early childhood education and care into school, can enhance parental confidence and in turn, also enhance children’s confidence.
(Hirst, Jervis, Visagie, Sojo & Cavanagh, 2011).
SOME IDEAS AND RESOURCES
Even with the best of preparation, your child may still experience normal human set-backs. How will you know when their reactions are usual run-of-the-mill problems or something more serious?
The websites listed below have advice about emotional responses for cues. Don’t hesitate to speak with the class teacher to find out about your child’s behaviour in class.
Remember the most powerful message you can give your child about their new experience is your example.
How you show anxiety or worry about them will impact their approach and reactions to school. By staying calm and supportive, you will help your child in the best possible way to adjust to their new routines and surroundings.
Some links to useful information are listed below.
Learning Potential is a free app and website for parents, families, and carers packed with useful tips and inspiringways parents can be more involved in their child’s learning. It is designed to help parents be part of their child’s learning and make the most of the time they spend together, from the high chair to high school. Visit the Learning Potential website, or download the app for free from the App Store or Google Play. (Department of Education & Training).
A guide to engaging with families of children with a disability can be found at:
Parental Engagement: Engaging with families of children with a disability
Welcoming Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in kindergarten. Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority (2014–2019). Queensland Government.
Transcript of the video (July, 2014) embedded in above link is available in the link below:
Children starting school in rural and remote Queensland – parent resource. Queensland Government (2018).
What some Parents say
Parents hold significant aspirations for their children and these aspirations go way beyond doing well in school. Indeed academic growth and achievement are just part of the equation, and parents perceive their role to extend beyond engagement in learning. Parents believe that they have a wider remit of nurture and support to enable and equip their children to develop into happy, healthy and well-rounded members of society. Relationships with school are more likely to be perceived as positive when these values around the holistic development of a child are explicitly shared. Parents would potentially feel more comfortable about transition into school when they feel that the school they have chosen for their child supports their values. The following quotes are taken from parent interviews undertaken as part of the Re-Energising Parent Engagement in Australian Primary and Secondary Schools Project.
“First and foremost, obviously a role as a parent is to ensure that my child has a positive environment coming from the home.”
(Parent, metropolitan primary school, Queensland).
“It’s kind of a dual role between the school role and yourself, like a partnership. And I feel it’s my role to help (my children) in all sorts of ways, whether teaching them to cook or pick up and clean and have manners or not. So I think it’s really important to give a holistic education as well as more formal reading and helping with maths and things like that.”
(Parent, metropolitan primary school, Victoria).
“I think my school does reflect those same sort of values and I guess partly why I selected that school is because I feel like it’s in line with the culture that I’d like to promote in terms of my kids and the culture in the school of creating fairly wellrounded individuals and not focusing just on one aspect.”
(Parent, metropolitan primary school, Victoria).
WHAT SOME PRINCIPALS SAY
Principals identify the importance of the home environment in relation to the role parents play in their child’s learning. Not only in terms of parents engaging directly in learning activities at home, e.g. reading, discussions and homework, but through the provision of protective factors and a nurturing, supportive environment for their child’s learning and general development. It is also identified that conflict at home, the modelling of negative behaviours, lack of time from parents and ever increasingly digital distractions can have a harmful impact on children’s well-being.
The following quotes of Australian primary principals are taken from the Primary Principal Survey for the Re-energising Parent Engagement in Australian Primary and Secondary Schools Project.
“Ongoing success for every child is only possible if there is a shared responsibility and positive relationship between the school and each family.”
“In the enrolment interview, at orientation day and the playgroup visits, we do emphasise the importance of parent and school working together and having open and honest communication processes in place”.
Following is a quote from a principal interview which was part of the project.
“We have conferencing between parents and teachers so teachers can learn from parents about their little ones because parents have the most privileged knowledge of all about their children and we want to take as much of that as possible so that we can have a good continuity of learning and growth and a great transition into formal schooling for the little ones."
(Primary principal, regional school, Queensland).
WHAT SOME RESEARCHERS SAY
(Extract taken from Moore, 2017, p.6).
"Children’s mental health and well-being is supported when staff and families work together to enable children to have positive goodbyes - this could be achieved through such actions as:
• Gradually build up your child’s experiences of separation so that they feel safe and reassured.
• Spend extra time with your child when you reunite to reconnect again.
• Allow children to express their distress, acknowledge the child’s feelings and avoid labelling or criticising.
• Talk with your child about what you can do when you see each other again.
• Increase the child’s feelings of safety and connectedness by bringing a familiar toy or photo from home.
• Talk with your child about their day and what they enjoyed.
(Extract from Kidsmatter, Helping children to cope with separation distress).
For information on separation anxiety in preschoolers go to:
Some useful books on parent engagement
Christakis, E. (2016). The Importance of Being Little: What Pre-schoolers Really Need from Grown-ups. New York, USA: Viking.
Hirst, M., Jervis, N., Visagie, K., Sojo, V. & Cavanagh, S. (2011). Transition to primary school: a review of the literature. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.
Kidsmatter, Australian Early Childhood Mental Health Initiative, Helping children to cope with separation distress.
Moore, T.G. (2017). Authentic engagement: The nature and role of the relationship at the heart of effective practice. Keynote address at ARACY Parent Engagement Conference - Maximising every child’s potential. Melbourne, June.
Ethics approval for research was obtained through the University of Southern Queensland Human Research Ethics Committee.
Special thanks to the following for contributing to the project.
Project partner - The Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) for assistance with survey development and data analyses.
National principal associations for various assistance with dissemination of project information.
National parent associations for various assistance with dissemination of project information.
Australian primary & secondary school principals who completed surveys.
Australian primary & secondary school principals who participated in interviews.
Australian school children’s parents who participated in interviews.
Project partner - Professor Sue Saltmarsh (USQ) for ethics approval submissions, interview protocols, training of interviewers, qualitative and quantitative data analyses, research publications and presentations.
Dr David Saltmarsh for data analyses and research publications.
Presenters of preliminary findings: Professor Sue Saltmarsh (USQ), Tony O’Byrne (Catholic School Parents Australia (CSPA)), Carmel Nash OAM (CSPA) and John O’Brien (CSPA).
Interviewers: Tony O’Byrne (CSPA), Bernadette Kreutzer (Catholic School Parents Queensland (CSPQ)),
Siobhan Allen (CSPA), Linda McNeil (CSPA), Rachel Saliba (CSPA) and Greg Boon (CSPA).
Dr Tim Sealey for assistance with survey generation and survey data analyses.
Interview data analyses and generation of qualitative data report: Barbara Barker (ARACY), Neil Stafford and Dr Caroline Ladewig (ARACY).
Parent Engagement Module writers: Carmel Nash OAM (CSPA), Siobhan Allen (CSPA), Rachel Saliba (CSPA) and David Fagan (Backroom Media Pty Ltd).
Charmaine Stevens (CSPQ) for graphic design and art direction.
Schoolzine for web design and Adventure Clipz for video footage.
John O’Brien (CSPA) for project coordination.