How to prepare your child for the next stage of their education

Your child’s first days at a new school or college are important rites of passage. From walking them to the gates on their first day of primary school to dropping them off at university, they will need your help and support.

Our guide looks at how you can prepare your child for the transition to primary school, high school, and university.

Primary school

Your child’s first day at school is one of the big milestones of being a parent. While it will also be an emotional day for you, there are lots of ways that you can help your son or daughter to make the big step. These include:

• Begin talking about starting school in advance of the big day. Read stories about starting school, or drive/walk past the school gates and chat with your child about the facilities and what their first day might be like.

• Let your child try on their school uniform for the first time. This will help build their excitement about going to school.

• Help your child become independent. They will feel more confident in school if they can dress and undress themselves. Teachers will also thank you if your child responds to their name and are confident in going to the toilet by themselves.

• Help your child to make friends with fellow new starters before the term begins. Consider play dates in the summer holidays, so your child knows a classmate when the big day comes around. You might want to arrange for them to go to school with a friend on the first day – a familiar face will help them to settle in.

Some schools also offer the opportunity to go in and spend some time in the classroom. These sessions will help your child to get used to the school environment, and they can also meet their primary school teacher.

High school

By the time your child reaches high school age they have become familiar with the environment and are well on the way to becoming independent young adults. However, the transition from being a big fish in a small pond to a smaller fish in a bigger pond can still be tough – and they will need your help.

One way that you can support your child’s transition to high school is to promote their independence. As they enter their teenage years’, children no longer want to be told what to do, instead preferring to make their own decisions. Support these, but be ready to act as a safety net if they need it.

One good example of this is to let your child choose their school bag. As Cathy Ranson, editor-in-chief of Netmums, says: “The bag is really important. For a lot of kids with school uniform, it [a bag] is the only way to show your personality.”

Another way to support your child’s newfound independence is to give them a phone – the average age at which a child gets their first mobile phone is the same as the age when they start secondary school.

The Guardian’s family columnist Annalisa Barbieri thinks, “the biggest preparation is not of the child, but of the parent”, and all the arguments over phones, friends and freedom “are really just symptoms of a bigger fear of your child becoming their own person.”


If your child goes on to higher education, starting university represents the last leap to full independence. So, teaching them to stand on their own two feet is important, and you can support them both practically and emotionally.

Talk to your child about how they feel about their forthcoming university experience. They are likely to be feeling a mixture of excitement and trepidation, so discuss their concerns and be supportive.

On a practical level you can help them by:

• Making them do some household chores in the years before they head off to university.

Ruth Caleb, head of counselling at Brunel University, says: “It’s a huge help if you teach them to be responsible for their washing and feeding themselves reasonably healthily. If they learn to look after themselves, once they’re at university they’ll have less to take in overall.”

• Teaching them about budgeting and managing their money. Help them with financial products (bank accounts, insurance).

• Help them get used to the responsibility of looking after themselves. You should stop waking them up in the morning as they will have to manage their own time at university. Let them cook some family meals; the ability to prepare some basic, healthy meals will serve them well and may help them to make friends in their halls of residence.