Tag Archives: jenny alexander

Going Up to Secondary School in the Year of the Virus

By Jenny Alexander, author of No Worries: Your Guide to Starting Secondary School.


Going up to secondary school is a big change and it’s 9781472974303natural for children to have some anxieties. That’s why schools normally put a lot of work into helping with the transition. But these are not normal times.

This year, the sudden disruption of classes and ongoing uncertainty about the future has made the transition to secondary school even more unsettling for a lot of children and the long period out of school is giving anxieties a chance to build.

Recognising this is why the government has prioritised children in transition years going back to school first, but even for those who can there won’t be any of the usual leavers’ parties and assemblies or induction days.

Fortunately, as with curriculum work, parents and carers can do a lot at home to help children prepare and feel confident about going up.

Information

Information artwork-page-001Knowledge is power, and even in these difficult times, transition years teachers will make sure children have all the general information they need, such as the different ways classes are organised and delivered in secondary schools. But talking to children about their individual concerns can uncover specific worries that might seem surprising.

For example, a high-achieving child might feel anxious that they won’t be able to do the work at secondary school, although that would probably be the last thing the adults around them would expect them to be worried about, but the problems for high-achievers is that they have more to lose than a child who normally struggles. A sociable child might worry about making new friends, not because they actually will struggle but because friends are particularly important to them.

Opening up the conversation and listening to what children say is the key. Brushing off a child’s worries because we don’t think they’ve got anything to worry about means we are not helping to address them.

Action

In every society, major life transitions are marked by some kind of ritual and all schools mark the transition to secondary school with events such as leavers’ assemblies, prize givings and parties. In these times of virus, social celebrations are not possible, but children can still get a sense of closure through practical activities such as writing letters or making cards for the teachers and other staff members who have been an important part of their primary school experience. They can have an online party with their friends or a special family meal to celebrate and give a sense of completion.

Looking forward, while they might not be able to physically visit their new school, they could ‘walk the trail’ with a parent or carer, making the journey they will make at the beginning of the new term; they could create a ‘wishes collage’ to focus on what they are looking forward to among the new opportunities going to secondary school will open up to them.

Here’s a helpful guide to making a wishes collage from No Worries: Your Guide to Starting Secondary School.

Wishes collage

Attitude

Unhelpful thoughts are where anxieties take root and grow strong: how we frame a situation is important to our mental health. This is a basic tenet of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Children who feel very anxious about going up to secondary school may be focusing on all the things that could go wrong, and their self-talk could get stuck, like a hamster in a wheel, along the lines of ‘No-one will like me, I won’t be able to do the work, what if I’ve got the wrong stuff…’

Noticing, challenging and changing unhelpful thoughts is a simple practice that’s incredibly effective and easy for children to grasp, and I cover the basics in, How to be Happy (Bloomsbury). I would recommend children’s self-help books like that one as a quick, easy introduction for adults who may be unfamiliar with the Cognitive Behavioural approach too. Children pick up attitudes from the adults around them.

For general anxieties, my 70 Ways to Boost Your Self-Esteem (Five Lanes Press) offers lots of quick practical and creative tasks; for a specific worry that many children have about going up, there’s 70 Ways to Bullyproof Yourself and Bullies, Bigmouths and So-called Friends (Hodder).

Information, practical activities and positive habits of thinking – these are the basic tools we can all use to manage anxiety. It’s a real bonus that helping children use them to feel confident about going up to secondary school is also giving them skills to cope with anything else they might be worried about in what is, for most of us, a worrying time.

Jenny Alexander is a well-established author of over one Jenny Alexander - Online-47hundred fiction and non-fiction children’s titles, including Finding Fizz and the Peony Pinker series. Jenny always wanted to be an author and learnt the craft of writing in the couple of years that she worked for educational publishers. She has written prolifically on the theme of bullying and her books have been translated into many languages: German, Danish, Welsh, Portuguese, Greek, Indonesian, Chinese, Korean and Turkish.

No Worries: Your Guide to Starting Secondary School is full of information about going up from primary to secondary school and covers all of the big worries and anxieties, and is available to order from Bloomsbury.com

Meet the Author – Jenny Alexander

Welcome Author photo - Jenny Alexanderto the first of our Meet the Author features. We’re thrilled to be able to introduce you to some of our Bloomsbury Education fiction authors and share their thoughts and advice on writing, encouraging children to read and write and how their books can be used in the classroom. Read on to find out more about the brilliant Jenny Alexander. 

What are your five favourite books, and why?
I couldn’t possibly choose! I have eclectic reading tastes, and how can you compare a non-fiction book that gives you a ground-breaking insight with a work of fiction that gives you a few days of sheer escapist pleasure?

If you could be a character from a book who would you be?
One of the reasons I write is because I can create the characters I would like to be for myself, and explore the situations I want to explore through them.

secret-300x300

What inspired you to write The Binding?
The Binding was sparked by an unsettling incident I witnessed in a remote part of Scotland nearly ten years ago. I was walking past a ruined crofter’s cottage when I heard a commotion inside and went to see what was going on. I found four children, out of breath and flushed with excitement, the biggest one grasping in his fist a baby bird. They flashed each other a guilty look, before the big boy rallied, took the chick to the nearest window and opened his hand. It fell to the ground.

‘It was stuck in here,’ he said. ‘We were trying to catch it so we could help it to get out.’
We all knew that wasn’t what they were doing, but the bird was free now, and I stayed there watching it limp away to the nearest cover while the children ran back towards their houses.
I got to thinking, how would it be for a child to live in a place where there were few other children, and virtually no adult supervision?

Then, in the wonderful way that fiction works, that little nugget of an idea began to layer up with other ideas. It resonated with memories from my own childhood, particularly the secret club I had with my three siblings, which we called ‘the meeting.’ Stories other people had told me and new fantasies were called into my mind by this seed idea, and transformed in imagination to fit into it. I love this process. It makes me feel energised and happy. And when, as occasionally happens, it also grows into a publishable book, well that’s just the icing on the cake.

What would you want children reading the book to learn from it?
It’s a classic bullying situation, where a powerful, charismatic child is able to dominate the others in a friendship group, using humiliation and exclusion to crush any opposition. I’d like children to think about the importance of sticking up for each other, and the power of the group when they stand up to bullying together.

What advice would you give to teachers and parents wanting to encourage their children to write?
I wrote How to be a Brilliant Writer (A and C Black) to encourage children to write, by dismantling the idea that writing has to be ‘good’ and putting the emphasis where it ought to be, on writing as a wonderful opportunity to discover, develop and share your ideas and experience.

9781472908728

Jenny Alexander is a popular author of children’s fiction and non-fiction titles. She has written extensively on the theme of bullying and her latest title The Binding examines the subject in the context of isolation, authority, respect and the difficulty of speaking out.

When Jack and his family arrive on a remote Scottish island, the whole summer holiday seems doomed…until they find the den. Soon the children are initiated into a secret society. As the summer goes on Jack realises he will have to sand up to the leader, whatever it costs him.

Find out more about Jenny here and follow her on Twitter @jennyalexander4