Transitional Years at School-What to look out for



Change can be a frustrating experience. For little Beverly Tan, the transition from pre-school to primary school was exciting but at the same time unnerving, fraught with apprehension. Waking up early, donning a new uniform and attending classes surrounded by many unfamiliar faces in a new environment, made her reluctant to attend school. While many children look forward to the independence of attending school, they may also suffer from separation anxiety from their parents.

Through proper planning and early preparation, however, parents can ease the transition into a new school or grade. In Beverly’s case, with the positive affirmation of her parents and the continuous involvement of her civil-servant father Benjamin Tan in engaging and communicating with her, she integrated well into her primary school and is now looking forward to helping her little sister make a similar transition.

What are Transitional Years?

Transitional years refer to the period where a child embarks on a new phase of education, particularly in a new school or environment. The most challenging transitional years would be from kindergarten to primary school, where separation anxieties may dominate, and from primary school to secondary school, where pre-adolescent child development issues may dominate.

The two phases also warrant different levels of engagement from fathers as the child would be at various stages of development. In particular, pre-teens transiting from primary to secondary school may want to express their own identities and during these important years they may be faced with personal, social and academic pressures which can affect parent-child relationships and distract them from doing well in school.

In addition, the academic streaming process in Singapore’s education system, at Primary 5 and at the Secondary level, to cater to your child’s different learning capabilities, can also be a psychologically stressful experience for your child. It is important to remain engaged with your child during this period to ensure that he or she does not develop any self-esteem issues from being placed in the differentiated streams.

Research has shown that a positive transition experience will set the tone for the entire academic “career”. More importantly, studies have shown that strong and positive parent-child relationships have a clear and positive impact on early school success. For example, when a parent is sensitive to even small behavioural changes in his child, he will be able to intervene early, resulting in an easier transition for his child.

What to Look Out For?

A positive transition experience is one where the child demonstrates eagerness to attend school and participate in classroom activities. Also consider how to help your child settle into new routines at home and at school. Look out for whether your child has developed friendships in the new environment. A child who is experiencing a positive transition would also speak and act confidently.

Conversely, a child may be experiencing difficulties during the transitional years if they are observed to be reluctant to attend school, sometimes feigning sickness or playing truant. The child may also experience challenges in developing new friendships. They may also tend to be lonely or become victims of bullying, resulting in lower self-esteem and increased timidity. .

What Can Fathers Do?

1. Goal-Setting

Prior to the commencement of the transitional school year, sit with your child and set goals together. The goals can go beyond academic concerns and include personal development and non-academic activities such as developing new hobbies or skills training in sports. It is important for the child to have a clear understanding of the significance of these goals.

Benjamin shares, “Before Beverly commenced her primary education, my wife and I sat with her and discussed realisable goals for the next school year, such as time allocated for studying and leisure activities. We also included small incentives such as family trips to the movies or travel in the region to encourage her to achieve her goals. I find that the goal-setting process helps institute a sense of routine which complements the transition to the more rigid time-table in a primary school”.

2. Preparation

Do your own homework! Take advantage of the National Library’s extensive parenting books or online resources to read up on how to best support your child through this challenging period. The references indicated at the end of this article can help you get started.

Early preparation for the new school year is key to easing the emotional stress your child might experience during the actual transition. Leverage on opportunities such as the buying of school supplies to excite your child about school. Make it a family activity and your involvement would send a message to your child on the importance of attending school and ease his anxiety.

You could also visit the new school with your child prior to the start of the school year, to help him navigate the new school system and describe what he can expect on the first day of school.

3. Communication

Be available, physically and emotionally, to communicate with your child.

Paul Khoo, founder of a social media consultancy, a former teacher, and father of two pre-schoolers, observes, “It is important to engage and communicate with your child. I find that when I start talking to them on a particular incident at the point of occurrence, they are very willing to share their emotions and we can arrive at a resolution easily.”

Paul also advocates the importance of reflecting on the day’s activities together with one’s children to draw lessons learnt and to affirm positive development. Such activities bolster a child’s confidence in facing new challenges.

4. Engagement

Play soccer, watch movies or do something you know your child loves. Engaging your child will strengthen the father-child relationship, relieve any stress from the transitional years and improve communication channels between your child and you.

“I make it a point to go swimming with Beverly on Saturdays as it gives me dedicated time with her. After the swim, I treat her to ice-cream and we have an informal chat about her school week. She seems to open up more and I look for opportunities to see how I can best support her in the days ahead,” Benjamin said.


Encourage play-dates and group activities. Encourage your child to seek out and develop new friendships. Exposing your child to a variety of play-dates will improve his social skills and facilitate integration into the new school environment during transitional years.

Paul shares, “One of the key challenges I have experienced is helping my children get over anger. When the situation arises, I separate the child and talk to him or her on a personal level -exercising sensitivity to his or her emotions. Highlighting specific instances or reinforcing values eases the situation and helps my children develop better social skills when they are on their own.”

6.Get Involved at School

Establish a positive presence at school through volunteering your services at various events or Co-curricular activities. It demonstrates to your child how much you value his education. Develop positive relationships with your child’s teachers and other parents to understand how he is progressing. Be sensitive to your child’s learning environment. Research has also shown that there is a high correlation between parent involvement in schools and the success of those schools in educating youth.

Transitional years at school will certainly be a challenging experience for your child. As a father, partner your child in her development and leverage on these experiences to strengthen your relationship with her. Be a dad for life!


1. Canfield, K. (1992). The 7 Secrets of Effective Fathers. USA: Tyndale

2. PBS Parents.  (2010). Starting School. Retrieved 15 December 2010

3. Ellen R Delisio. Education World. (2010). A Smooth Transition Can Mean a Smooth Year. Retrieved 10 December 2010

4. Ted Feinberg & Katherin C. Cowan. NASP. (2004). Back-to-School Transitions. Retrieved 10 December 2010.

5. Joe Kelly. National Centre for Fathering. (2010). 10 Tips for Easing the Back-to-School Transition. Retrieved 16 December 2010

About the Author: The Dads for Life Resource Team comprises local content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals, dedicated to developing useful resources for dads.

First published on 06-06-2011

Categories: Fatherhood 101

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