Dear Kirsten, 

My son is about to move up to big school. He has been bullied through primary by some older boys.

We've tried to move him away from them by choosing a different school but it means he will be away from his friends.

He has been OK over the summer, we've done summer school with him but he didn't make any friends really while he was there.

This week he has started to be really clingy and tearful before bed and has become really fussy about his school uniform.

He keeps checking it fits and that it's not creased.

I've found him packing and repacking his bag.

He is worrying all the time about getting lost and for the first time in years he wet the bed the other night.

I keep telling he'll be fine but its not sinking in.

I don't know what to do other than tell him he'll be ok.

Name withheld 

Kirsten replies:

It's a huge move, so many kids up and down the country will be beside themselves with excitement or worry.

It's stating the obvious to say that your son sounds very anxious.

His past experiences of bullying might have stayed with him; they can impact how safe kids feel, how adventurous they are in friendships, how much they trust people and most importantly how they feel about themselves. 

If the bullying has damaged his self esteem, he might feel anxious about making friends - there might be all sorts of worries happening - what if no-one likes me/why would anyone want to be friends with me etc, these are all common worries that children can have.

I would start by having an open chat about how those things in the past made him feel.

You can let him know about the school's anti-bullying policies and strategies, who he can go to for support and that you have chosen this route to make sure school is safe for him.

The clinging behaviour is a classic sign of an anxious child, when things around them feel threatening they move closer to safety.

At night time, respond to him as though he were younger than he is, offer him bed time stories and the type of soothing activities you would have used previously to help him calm down.

The bedwetting is likely to be temporary and you can let him know that it's really common and nothing to worry about. 

To help him deal with his worries about school, start to desensitise him by visiting the website and doing the school journey.

Practise packing his bag with him and have a trial run of the school morning. Talk through the school day, talk through how he buys his lunch, where the lockers are - all of the things that will be different for him.

Reassure him that feeling worried and anxious about starting a new school is very, very normal and most of the other young people will be feeling as worried as he is.

Many young people worry about how to make friends - some struggle with the basics of how you talk to new people and how you move this into a friendship.

Help him plan some topics of conversation, things he has done over the summer, films he's watched, music he likes, interests he has.

Given he has struggled to connect with friends at summer school, check in with him about how he found the experience, see if you can pinpoint what might have blocked him connecting with his peers.

If it's anxiety and he has struggled to speak to other children, he might need a little more support from school to make friends.

On the first school morning, make sure he is organised (don't be tempted to do it for him) and that he is up early and on time.

Give him lots of reassurance, have a clear plan for where he will be dropped off and where he will go to.

Make sure school policies about mobile phones etc are understood and that he knows what to do if he gets lost or if he is worried.

Check in with him at the end of the school day to see how it's gone and bear in mind that some young people will want to be able to tell their parents they were fine even if that wasn't the case.

Keep an eye on how he's doing and if you are worried, check in with school to get an idea of how he is settling in. 

It's normal for parents to be worried, it's a big day for everyone. Try not to show him your anxiety if you can, he needs to take his lead and his confidence from you.

All Best Wishes


Kirsten Antoncich

UKCP Clinical Psychotherapist and Neurofeedback Practitioner