Supporting a grieving child transitioning from primary to secondary school

The transition from primary to secondary school can be exciting and the start of a new chapter, but it can also feel nerve wracking and a big change to cope with. For children who are grieving there can be additional feelings and worries to manage. Endings and saying goodbye can be difficult for bereaved children. It can feel like another loss and wake up feelings of grief. Here are some ways to support them with the transition to secondary school:

  • Keep routines or establish new ones
  • Embrace new friendships and maintain old ones
  • Stay organised
  • Ask for help from the school when needed
  • Get enough sleep
  • Find ways to remember the person who has died
  • Remember it’s okay to feel nervous and overwhelmed

Why might grieving children find the transition to secondary school difficult?

Endings can be difficult

Sometimes, the end of something big and important like primary school can wake up feelings of grief about people who might have died a long time ago. This is normal, and nothing to feel worried about. It might be a sign that it would be a good time for your child to talk to someone they trust about their feelings.

Emotional goodbyes from primary school

Saying goodbye to friends, teachers, or other staff members at primary school can be really emotional and might feel like a loss in itself. It might help your child to spend some time making a photo album or scrap book of their happy memories or writing about them in a diary. They might have some memories of the person who died connected with their primary school, so they could write about those as well.

Ways to help a grieving child with the transition to secondary school

Keep routines or establish new ones

In times of change, keeping existing routines can provide a sense of stability and comfort. Simple things like mealtimes and bedtimes are important parts of a routine that will make the transition to secondary school easier if you keep them the same. Maybe your child is still attending the same after school clubs or activities. Or maybe they go to the same person’s house on a Wednesday every week. Try to keep their routine if they already have things in place. If you don’t, consider creating a new routine – what an exciting opportunity! They might find some new clubs, activities, or places to attend groups. Encourage them to ask their teacher when they start the new term!

Embrace new friendships and maintain old ones

Making new friends can be exciting, but it’s also important for your child to stay connected with their friends from primary school. Balancing both old and new friendships will help as a support network for them during the transition to their new school. Encourage them to try to be open to meeting new people and expanding their social circle, but remember it might be a good idea for them to prepare for some questions they might be asked.

For example, “what do your parents do for work?” or “do you have any siblings?”. Your child can decide whether they want to share about the person who has died immediately if they are asked a question about them. It’s up to them whether they tell new friends straight away or if they would rather wait and prepare their answer.

Stay organised

Moving up to secondary school might mean your child is going to have more homework and multiple subjects to manage. They might like to use a planner or digital tools to keep track of homework, tests, and additional activities. Staying organised can help reduce stress and make them feel like they can stay on top of their work and responsibilities.

Encourage your child to ask for help when they need it

Your child’s new form tutor is probably the best person for them to check in with. They could ask them who might be right in their school to talk to if they are feeling wobbly. If you haven’t already, you could pass on information about their bereavement, including milestone days that might be tricky for them (for example, Father’s Day, or the anniversary of the important person’s death).

Some children and young people also find certain subjects difficult to hear about, for example, Suicide Awareness Day or aspects of First Aid training. It’s helpful if this can be confidentially passed on so your child can be given the heads up if these are going to be covered in class. Asking for support early on in the school year might prevent issues from getting bigger as time goes on, and the support from others may help them adjust to their new school easier.

Sleep well

Summer holidays are great for staying up late, having sleepovers and lie ins, but big feelings can be harder to cope with if you don’t have enough sleep. In the last week or two of the summer holidays, it might be a good idea to encourage your child to start concentrating on getting back on top of their bedtime routine. Try relaxing baths, chilled out playlists and reading before bed rather than looking at screens.

Honour the memory of the person who died

It’s important for a child to find ways to honour the memory of their person as they move onto secondary school. They could create a special keepsake or get involved in an activity (see below). Acknowledging you grief and allowing yourself to feel your feelings is really important, especially in times of change.

Remember that transitioning to a new school can be a gradual process and remind them it’s okay to feel nervous or overwhelmed at times. Encourage them to give themselves time to adjust, and don’t be too hard on themselves.

Continued below…

Activities to do before going to secondary school

Memory Box

Create a special memory box with items that are connected to the person who died. These items could include photographs, letters, small keepsakes, or any meaningful objects. The memory box can be a comforting and tangible way for you to connect with your memories.

Write an Unsent Letter

Write a letter or keep a journal addressed to the person who has died. Share thoughts, feelings, and memories, providing an outlet for emotions and a way to feel close to your person. You could simply tell them about what you’ve been up to lately and any feelings you have about moving to your new school.

Beaded Bracelet

Making a beaded bracelet in memory of someone can be a very helpful activity for grieving children, young people, and families. You can wear your bracelet, display it somewhere, or keep it in your bag to bring to your new school.


Make a keyring to keep on your keys, pencil case or bag. You could use a photo of your person or draw a picture of something that reminds you of them. This is a lovely way of keeping their memory with you as you start your new adventure.

Getting professional grief support from Winston’s Wish

Winston’s Wish is a charity that helps children, teenagers and young adults (up to the age of 25) find their feet when their worlds are turned upside down by grief. Through information, on-demand services, bereavement support and counselling, we support young people to understand their feelings, process their grief and find ways to move forward with hope for a brighter future. All of our support is available online, so we can support children and young people across the UK no matter where they live. We also help the adults who are caring for young grieving people including parents, school staff and healthcare professionals.

If you are supporting a child or young person who is struggling with their grief, please call our Freephone Helpline team on 08088 020 021 (8am -8pm, weekdays), email or use our live chat (8am-8pm, weekdays). We are here to help and can provide advice, support, and resources.

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