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:
- 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)
- 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 the 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.
Other tools and methods to help your child adjust to a new school
Children of all ages need a significant amount of exercise and rigorous play to help them function well under stress. While this is important to prioritize daily, it is even more important when children are experiencing a major life change like moving their homes and experiencing life in a new state.
There are many fun resources for kids to explore different methods of exercise including in-person and virtual classes. Your child may enjoy dancing to a choreography video on YouTube or socializing in a gymnastics class. Of course there are tons of team sports that will surely help your kids find friends fast.
For those kids who struggle socially, it may be better to find them some activity that doesn’t come with social worry or discomfort. The best thing to do is ensure they have fun enjoying their exercise and getting out some much needed energy.
If your child is acting out or not acting like their usual selves, you may want to rule out some harmful culprits your child’s diet. More studies are being conducted that connect artificial food coloring and preservatives to hyperactivity and combative behavior in children. Parents have testified to a significant reduction in spells of aggression and better cognition for school when food dyes and highly preserved foods were eliminated from their diets.
Experimenting with an alternate diet may bring some of your child’s troubles to light. With their nutrition back in better balance, they may be able to withstand the pressure, stress and anxiety of a new move.
Support Them Against Bullying
The internet: for one thing it’s super user-friendly. Sharing takes only one tap and our social webs make it easy for news to travel beyond our own circle of friends. Gossip can travel at the speed of light and before a tween or teen can even stop to consider the damage it can cause to someone, its already traveling around not just the school, but out into the public eye as well.
The first step: open up their eyes to the damage of bullying. Help them anticipate how to react if they ever feel like they are becoming a victim. You’ll lessen your child’s chances of getting caught off-guard about being harassed or put-down by their peers if they know hot to spot the signs and are prepared with how to act accordingly.
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.