10 Ways to Help Your Child Adjust to a New School
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The beginning of the school year should be an exciting time, but it can be stressful for kids starting at a new school. Whether you moved over the summer or are simply switching schools, you’re probably wondering how to make the transition easier on your kids. Here are 10 expert tips.
Before School Starts
- “Include your kids in the process,” suggests Debbie Glasser, Ph.D and founder of NewsForParents.org, who moved three children to a new state. “Attend the school orientation together and/or arrange for a tour. Older children might appreciate the opportunity to follow their schedule -- walking from the bus loop to the locker to each class. Also, be sure to point out the bathrooms, cafeteria and auditorium. Younger children might benefit from a few visits to the new school. Most schools will assign a ‘buddy’ to assist your child during the first few days or weeks. If you think this is something your child would benefit from, talk with the guidance counselor.” Knowing where things are should alleviate some of your child’s fears.
- Seek the positive. Request the school handbook or scour the website for fun facts, photographs, and lists of interesting classes, extracurricular activities and sports activities. Knowing she’ll have the chance to serve on the Model U.N. may make your daughter miss her old school’s debate team less.
- Future friends are everywhere you look; find them! Sign your child up for nearby summer camps and classes, play at the school playground, and visit the local library storytime. Young children may need help meeting new friends, but they’ll feel less nervous starting a new school if they see some familiar faces in the classroom.
- Brainstorm. “Knowledge is the best tool to reduce anxiety and if you can uncover the basis for your child’s concerns, you will be better prepared to address them,” says Rhona M. Gordon, M.S., SLP/CCC, author of Thinking Organized for Parents and Children. Whether your child is worried about making new friends, losing touch with old ones, or simply finding his locker on the first day of school, odds are you can help.
- “Remind your children about other "firsts" they've experienced in their lives and how well they handled them,” suggests Glasser. “For example, has your child ever started a new camp? Does your child remember his or her first day of kindergarten? Find opportunities to talk about successes they've experienced and the advantages of taking that first step - like meeting a new friend or learning a new skill.” This will build confidence and remind them that taking risks can pay off.
The First Few Weeks
- Be prepared for stormy weather. “You might find kids are withdrawn, more sensitive, not doing as well in school, being uncooperative,” says Suzy Martyn, founder of Mother's Friend. This will pass as they settle in.
- Stick to your routine. If rapid changes have left your child reeling, knowing what’s expected at home can provide a soothing anchor.
- Find any excuse to socialize. Throw a “new in town” or homecoming party, invite someone over for a playdate, or ask if your child wants an early birthday party. Socializing on home turf is often easier for kids and socializing one-on-one can be less intimidating than trying to break into a new group, while hosting a party is a great way to ingratiate oneself with a crowd.
- Get involved with the school. If you’re able to volunteer in the classroom, you’ll get to know the teacher and your child’s classmates firsthand. Networking with other parents can be a great way to meet other kids, too.
- Be patient. “I would expect most children to have a hard first six weeks or so, although some who adapt and make friends easily may adjust much more quickly,” says Jennifer Shewmaker, Ph.D, Director of School Psychology Training at Abilene Christian University. “If a child was still really struggling, crying and complaining of lack of friends, after six months, that might cause me concern.” In that instance, talk to your child’s teacher and the school counselor – but remind yourself that the odds are he’ll adjust just fine.