The 18-year-old Easter Road prospect was sent to Berwick Rangers for the final two months of last season, where he was introduced to the more physical elements of life in the Irn Bru Third Division.
However, despite his slight frame and tender years, the teen forward thrived among the grown-ups in Scotland's bottom tier, bagging seven goals in as many games for the Wee Rangers.
He returned to Edinburgh in the summer to be told by boss Pat Fenlon that he would finally get his chance with the Clydesdale Bank Premier League side's top team, although his development would be carefully checked.
In practice that meant a run of bit-part roles as he was handed 10 run outs as substitute. However, having netted his first goal for the club in a four-goal romp against Motherwell back in October, his patience his paid off and the Haddington lad was given his first start in the midweek defeat to Ross County in Dingwall.
It was a confident display and, on reflection, one Handling believes has its foundations laid during that loan spell in Berwick.
He told Press Association Sport: "Going to Berwick helped me adapt to first-team football and it's physical side a lot quicker. The players in the lower-leagues are giants - big, massive men.
"The tackles come flying in and it took me the first three games to adapt to it. After that I was getting used to the standard. But the step-up to the SPL is massive.
"I thought about going back out on loan last month and I did speak to the gaffer about it but nothing came up, so I'm happy to stay here.
"But I'd definitely encourage the other young boys here to go out on loan if they get the chance. I've spoken to a few of the boys and told them to grasp the chance if they get it."
- Sports & Recreation
- Berwick Rangers