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How to Help Your Child Adjust to a New School

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No matter their age, getting your kids on board with a move can be an especially daunting task. They will have to say good-bye to their room, their school, their teachers, and most importantly, their friends. Once you get them settled into their new environment and coping with the loss of everything they have left behind, you will be faced with the most difficult aspect of your move yet--helping them face the terror of starting a new school.

Going boldly into the unknown is a nerve-wracking experience for everyone--even as adults, most of us are nervous on our first day at a new job or when we are meeting our in-laws for the first time. Children are just learning how to cognitively process these feelings, and teens are already overcome with the emotional turbulence of adolescence. Adjusting to change will be especially difficult for your kids, and the following guide will provide you with some tips to make the experience easier and less stressful for them.

Talk about it.

Your child may be harboring concerns without voicing them. Bring up the topic of starting a new school to initiate a dialogue. Talking about her fears and apprehensions will lessen the burden. Validate her feelings by expressing empathy and offering examples when you felt similarly. Mention times in her past when she had to do something else for the first time--perhaps her first day at kindergarten or summer camp. Encourage her with the assurance that she will get through this as she did every other new and scary experience.

Research the school.

The fear of the unknown will lessen if it becomes more familiar. Spend some time researching your child's new school online and take notes of interesting classes or activities that you think would appeal to him. Encourage involvement in sports and other extracurricular activities, and be sure to point out classes or clubs of interest to your child that were unavailable at his old school. Getting him excited about whatever his new school has to offer will take his mind off of his nervousness.

Have a practice run.

Before school starts, go through the motions as if you were taking your child to school. Walk to the bus stop, map out the route to school if she will be walking, or drive her to school so she is familiar with where you will drop her off and what entrance she will use. You could also schedule a tour of the school, where you can check out the classrooms, cafeteria or other places she will need to find on her first day. Knowing the layout of the school and familiarizing herself with the routine will make that first day much less threatening.

Set up a play-date.

If you have a young child, arranging a play-date with one of his classmates before classes begin will help him to feel more comfortable. A familiar face on the first day of school will definitely make him feel less alienated. If there is an orientation before the term begins, attend and strike up conversations with the other parents that have children of similar age. Even if you can't arrange a play-date with a child in the same class, having a friend to eat lunch with or talk to in the hallways will ease your child's fears of isolation.

Get involved.

Younger children are often comforted by their parent's presence in the school. Join the P.T.A or volunteer as a classroom aid or a chaperone for class trips and school events. This will also help you to meet other parents and arrange play-dates for your children.

Meet teachers in advance.

If the school holds an orientation, you can attend and meet with your child's teachers. If not, you can arrange to visit before your child starts classes and speak with them. The more familiar you make the new school to your child before her first day, the less fearful she will be. Most of her unease stems from the unknown--if she realizes her new teacher is friendly and kind beforehand, she won't have to fear being scolded by a grumpy authority figure. Additionally, if your child is particularly sensitive, you can sometimes speak with the principal in advance and request a gentler instructor.

Keep home life routine.

With so much change happening, it's important to try and instill some level of stability for your child. Keep his home life as routine as possible--stick to your usual schedule for mealtimes, bedtime and playtime.

Expect regression.

Even the most perfect angel may begin to exhibit undesirable behaviors as a reaction to increased stress levels. Your younger children may throw tantrums, have accidents, or crawl into your bed at night. Teens may become angry and withdrawn, rebel, or mouth-off disrespectfully. Maintain your authority as the disciplinarian, but try your best to be empathetic to what your child is experiencing.

Be patient and understanding.

Above all else, exercise tolerance and sensitivity during this stressful time. Be open to talk about your child's feelings, emphasize the positive aspects of your move and the new school, and remain supportive and encouraging. Talk about your fears and apprehensions regarding the move and the changes you had to make to help her feel less alone. Realize that it will take time for her to adjust, but with a little patience and empathy you can ease her transition and make the experience a little less intimidating.

  Posted by Nicole La Capria on March 14, 2013

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