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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 adjust to starting a new school.

How to Help Your Kids Adjust to Their New School

Going boldly into the unknown is a nerve-wracking experience for everyone. Even as adults, we get nervous on the 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 the move with your children

Your child may be harboring concerns without voicing them.

  • Bring up the topic of starting a new school to initiate a dialogue
  • Talk about their fears and apprehensions to lessen the burden
  • Validate their feelings by expressing empathy and offering examples of when you felt similarly
  • Point to times in their past when they had to do something else for the first time

Your child needs to be assured they will get through this as they did every other new and scary experience.

TIP: The best way to go about preparing your kids to leave their school is by letting them know about the move as far in advance as possible. While you may think that telling them about the move at the last minute won't allow them to dwell on the disappointment of leaving, it won't help your kids in the long run. Give them enough time to think about the move and mentally prepare themselves to say goodbye to friends and teachers.

Research your child's new 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 them.

Encourage involvement in sports and other extracurricular activities and point out classes or clubs of interest to your child that were unavailable at their old school. Getting them excited about whatever the new school has to offer will take their mind off their nervousness.

TIP: Younger children are often comforted by their parent's presence in the school. Join the Parent-Teacher-Association (PTA), volunteer as a classroom aid or chaperone class trips and other school events. This will also help you to meet other parents and arrange play-dates for your children.

Can you meet the teachers in advance?

When you have found the school your child will be attending when you move, speak with the guidance counselor about enrolling your child. You want to make the transition as seamless as possible. Let the guidance counselor know where your child left off at their old school and discuss the options available.

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 your child is before the first day, the less fearful she will be. Additionally, if your child is particularly sensitive, you can sometimes speak with the principal in advance and request a gentler instructor.

Is there time for 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 morning route or drive to the school and point out the drop off/entrance. You could also schedule a tour of the school to check out the classrooms, cafeteria, gym, etc. Knowing the layout of the school will make that first day much less threatening.

Will your child be behind in schoolwork?

It's not likely that your children will begin classes in their new school picking up right where they left off in that year's curriculum at their old school. There may be some overlap involved or the classes in the new school may be slightly ahead of where your children were when they left.

There should be some coordination with your kids' teachers before you arrive in your new town to discuss where the class is in their learning and what your children have to catch up on, if they need to catch up at all. This will ensure that your children don't fall behind in class after you move.

Keep your child's home life routine

Not only is school the primary place where they see their friends every day, but it's also the place that's become almost like a second home. Your children spend a significant amount of time in school each day, and the familiarity of their daily school routine has most likely become comforting to them. It will be hard to remove them from that comfort and place them in a new and strange situation.

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

Expect your child to regress

Every child will 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.

Depending on how old they are, they'll likely already have a group of friends that they won't want to leave behind. It's difficult for young kids to leave their friends, especially at an early age, because of the connection that they develop and the fact that young kids get easily attached.

Be patient and understanding as your child transitions

Above all else, exercise tolerance and sensitivity during this stressful time. Realize that it will take time for them to adjust. 

  • Be open to talk about your child's feelings
  • Emphasize the positive aspects of your move and the new school
  • Remain supportive and encouraging
  • Talk about your fears and apprehensions regarding the move and the changes you will have to make

The process of transitioning your children to a new school involves some preparation and planning. With a little patience and empathy, you can ease the transition and make the experience a little less intimidating.

Nicole La Capria  Posted by Nicole La Capria on November 19, 2018

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