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Helping Your Child Adjust to a New School

You’ve recently moved, and your child is facing the reality of a new school. It’s a big transition, and you want to help them adjust. As it turns out, though, that’s easier said than done. Luckily, there are many things you can do to smooth the transition and help your child feel right at home – no matter their age or grade level.

Here’s our guide to the process. It starts with acknowledging the impact of the new school transition on your child:

What Makes Adjusting to a New School so Hard?

If you never moved to a new school as a child, it can be tough to understand what makes the process so difficult.

For one, a child is leaving their entire social circle. While most adults would argue that making friends is easier as a child, social dynamics are complex at any age. Therefore it’s natural for kids to feel anxiety about stepping out of everything they know.

Beyond this, a child is also leaving his or her teachers when they transfer to a new school. This can create learning difficulties and new struggles. They’ll have to quickly pick up on new processes they are not accustomed to such as:

  • Different teaching and disciplinary methods
  • New schedules
  • Alternate daily practices and procedures

Because of this, adjusting to a new educational setting can come with plenty of emotional upset, and it’s not uncommon for kids to start acting out in such environments. Remember, any disturbing and seemingly hostile behavior you witness after a move could be a signal that your child is having some trouble coping with the change.

All of these factors compound their vulnerability, so it’s important to acknowledge to your child that a new school is a big transition, but doesn’t have to be a scary one.

Helping Elementary School Children Adjust to a New School

Elementary school is a pivotal time in a child’s life, especially at ages 5-8 when children are still considered to be in their formative years of childhood development. As such, it’s essential to help your elementary school child adjust to their new school and surroundings when you move. Here are some tips for doing that:

  • Show Them Around. Act as a tour guide when introducing your child to their new school. Take your child to the school’s orientation or schedule a tour. Give them an idea of the neighborhoods where they will play and make friends. Check for flyers on the hallway bulletin boards that may advertise events and after-school social activities for their age group.
  • Talk it out. Make time to discuss your child’s feelings with him or her. Talking to a trusted adult is enough to help many children work through their anxieties. If they won’t talk, encourage them to color a picture about their feelings and see if that starts a conversation for you both.
  • Coach them on introducing themselves. Preparing them for the first day will ease anxiety a bit. Help them decide a few facts about themselves that they may want to share when their teacher introduces them to the class. It’s also helpful to guide them about how to connect with others such as giving genuine compliments to classmates, and expressing gratitude to teachers.

Helping Your Middle School Child Adjust in a New School Setting

Middle school children are entering an uncomfortable phase of their life, in many ways. Puberty and social challenges are looming. Additionally, these kids have more awareness of what’s going on around them. Because of this, they often need more support when it comes time to change schools. Here are a few ways you can help:

  • Communicate openly. Again, communication is essential for middle school kids. Give them a space to talk about their fears and concerns. Make sure you’re listening, rather than diminishing or downplaying their issues. This practice of an open dialogue will teach your kids positive communication habits while showing them that you respect and hear their fears.
  • Journal with them. It may be a good idea to start a journal where both of you communicate on the subject of the new move. You could prompt them by asking what was good, bad, funny or challenging about their first days in the new school to get them to open up. It’s also a good idea to share some of your stories from your middle school experience, the more awkward, the better.
  • Family Involvement. To create excitement about the new school change, encourage your child to get involved in a sports team or club. For your part, you can join the PTA, take part in a school picnic, or attend parent meetings about your child’s education and learning.

Pro-Tip:  Teachers are some of the greatest resources in the school system. If your child is having a hard time adjusting to their new school, ask teachers for help. They may be able to recommend resources or additional attention for your child to help him or her adjust.

Helping High-School Students Adjust

High-school kids, arguably, may have the most difficult time adjusting. Because teens are experiencing biological changes including, hello– hormones, they’re going to have more complex social and personal dynamics than younger kids. As such, they may need the most support during the adjustment process. Here are some tips to navigate it as a family:

  • Start Talking Early. Start talking to your teen about the move immediately. If there are options regarding which school to choose, it will help to include them in the decision-making process. Help them understand how the offerings at their new school will strengthen their potential and open doors for their future.
  • Teens Can Stay Connected. Thankfully with technology, your teen can easily maintain their old friendships and continue to bond even while they attend a new school. Your tech-savvy teens could start a website or private Facebook group to keep their long-distance friendship thriving. Each friend can write a blog entry about the fun they’ve had, what they love about their school or teachers, or plan out their adventures when they reunite over the summer.
  • Provide a Budget for Decorating/Fashion. Depending on their age, there are so many ways a teen can deck out their locker or car with their personality and creativity. It’s also a great opportunity to invest in their wardrobe. This will create excitement and build their confidence to have some new outfits as they transition to the new school.

When to Involve a Therapist

If your child is having a tough time adjusting to the idea of moving, you may consider involving a family or school therapist in the process. The struggle may look different depending on your child and their age. Here are a few signs that your child may benefit from a professional:

Younger Children:

  • throwing tantrums whenever school is mentioned
  • recurring meltdowns when you try to bring them to school
  • separation anxiety (clinging to you more than they have in recent months or years)

Any Age:

  • changes in sleeping or eating habits
  • disinterest in things they once liked
  • reclusive behavior with family members
  • faking sickness to avoid school

Keep in mind that they older your children are, the subtler their signs of distress will be, so keep your eyes peeled. Therapy provides a safe place for your child to air his or her concerns, and get some unbiased feedback. If you’re so inclined, you can schedule a few sessions as a family.

Adapting to a New School – the Easy Way

While getting used to a new school is hard for kids of any age, there are proactive ways that you, as a parent, can make it easier. By encouraging participation in the school, getting to know the locale, and taking an active stance on making new friends, it’s easy to keep kids happy and healthy, no matter what transitions they face.

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