Wisdom while you work: how to beat the fear of the unknown

By Libbla Kelly
14 April 2021

For thousands of children, this will be their last term at prep school before they venture on to senior school. We spoke to Libbla Kelly, author of ‘Wisdom While you Work: Values for Wellbeing’, to find out her advice for starting senior school using the values that parents and children can focus on in readiness for this next big step.

I wrote Wisdom While You Work as a notebook for my godchildren to use. The book contains 100 different values, each with advice to help create a foundation of wellbeing to build into young people’s everyday lives. The idea is for children to use these pages for their thoughts on the topics, as well as reading my advice.

When I wrote the notebook, I had a lovely research forum with a group of 11- to 16-year-olds. Moving schools was the biggest concern they voiced, even more so than doing exams. It was the fear of the unknown – and it was rooted in both social and academic situations. This fear can be defeated using positive, strong values.

Moving schools and coping with emotional and logistical situations can be addressed by taking time to think through this transition carefully. Yes, there is coping with change, worrying, tiredness, but also, somewhere inside, there is always a sense of fun and excitement to work with.

I always take the positive and I believe that embracing change by nurturing curiosity and bravery can help the fear. It just needs to be explained to the child.

On leaving prep school, help your child reflect on what they are leaving behind and the wonderful times they had there. Life is about making memories and leaving a great lasting impression of the person they have become at prep school. Still, one of my life’s greatest achievements was winning actor of the year, aged eight! I can still feel that emotion, even now.

Ask them to imagine how they will flourish in the new school and all it has to offer.

Ask them to think about who they want to be and how this change of schools will help them move forward and succeed. Suggest they give everything a go, and use their last term of prep school to start putting in place the values they want to embrace going forward. They could start by writing down the values that are important to them.

It is the positives that need to be nurtured in this situation – and strong values play a large part in positivity. Instilling the confidence in a child to believe in themselves is very important. Being kind at this time can turn into a great trust-building exercise. Use perspective!

Communication is key. It is an important time for both child and parent to communicate. Use teamwork. Empathise with them. Ask them questions about their misgivings.

Rumination causes no end of problems – and even anxiety. We all know it is good to talk, but it is also good to write down your worries. A great present could be a new notebook to encourage journaling and a place to write down your feelings. You could also plan and prepare by designing a planning chart or a list.

It is easier to deal with nerves if you give children special time to show interest in their emotions, but most of all show them understanding. It builds trust if you discuss these changes together, the new journey, the new teachers and pupils, the new locker, uniform, books, food and new academic subjects. Ask which they are interested in, and perhaps share stories of when you or family members changed schools. Take a trip to the school or look at the website together, laugh together, talk to other pupils you know who go there already, or older siblings of friends.

And these values will put you in great stead as you move to senior school. I do remember being so excited about a fabulous new chemistry lab and the size of the swimming pool at the new school!

My father’s advice was: ‘I have two things to say: listen, and believe in yourself. If you try your very best and really know, deep inside, that you have given your all, there is no more to be asked of you.’

There are many strong values, ideas and suggestions that can be used and remembered as they move up. You could use this as your checklist.

On the first day, make sure they have a drink of water, take lots of deep breaths and go in with an open mind and a smiling face. Encourage them to listen to others' points of views and suggestions and not to over-react to anything – be calm and take deep breaths.

Different circumstances, different environment, different community – be mindful to remember to live your life rather than anyone else's and resist the temptation to bow to peer pressure. There may well be some situations when you have to do things you don't want to, and learning to accept criticism will put you in good stead.

Also remember to be kind and offer help to others – and forgive mistakes, as everyone is a little nervous. You are all in the same boat.

Going back to the research forum I mentioned earlier, I asked those who had gone through the transition: ‘All the fears you had, did they come true? What was so very difficult?

’The answer was: ‘There were a few niggles but what we noticed most of all were that the days were much longer!’ Something they hadn’t ever thought of. They made it through the first day, then the first week and all agreed their fears were mostly unfounded.

The new subjects, new faces, new classrooms, new, new, new became part of just… well… life.

And don’t forget to take time every day, just five to 10 minutes, in silence and with deep breaths, giving you time to pause, to reflect. Remember your values and have the grit and gumption to make the most of these changes, this new adventure.

Remember: new and different experiences build up knowledge and wisdom for life.

Questioning – Listening – Kindness – Trust – Perspective – Understanding – Planning & Preparing.

‘Wisdom While You Work – Values for Wellbeing’ by Libbla Kelly is available at for £11.99. To access the special price of £10 for Talk Education readers, enter the code WISDOM10 at checkout. 

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