Switching to new schools and transitioning between grades can be challenging milestones for kids and teens. For younger children, the biggest hurdle to cross is often basic fear of the unknown. Children usually behave better in familiar surroundings and when they know the established routine. Being in a different school with new teachers and classmates can be a daunting prospect. Similarly, making the leap to middle or high school presents a set of challenges. During adolescence, the social scenarios of building friendships and navigating various cliques, on top of dealing with additional hormonal and behavioral shifts, can be highly stressful.
As parents, you can help alleviate your child's anxiety about attending a new school. A lot of it boils down to basic parenting principles of communication, openness and engagement. Of course, you can't hold onto sons' and daughters' hands throughout the school day to coach them along. But by encouraging them to get involved with schoolmates, focusing on their education and also making time for fun, you can ease a bumpy transition.
#5 - Anxiety Is Natural
Don't be surprised if signs of anxiety flare up as the new school year approaches. Kids may seem a little down in the dumps, nervous or even angry. Instead of taking it personally or ignoring it, acknowledge their emotions. Take some time to ask them how they're feeling about going to a new school, and if they express specific fears and concerns, try to discuss them and think of solutions. A lot of anxiety may stem from fears of loneliness, and letting them know that you're there to help out can be calming comfort.
Older teens may not be interested in talking about pre-school jitters, and forcing them to do so won't do much good. Rather, give them a little space, but try to stay aware of their moods and behaviors. Remember that actions sometimes speak louder than words, and cooking them a special breakfast on their first day or taking them to buy a new school outfit can communicate your compassion as well.
#4 - Get (and Stay) Involved
Getting involved in your child's life is good parenting advice in general -- keep it in mind especially when dealing with a transition to a new school. Make sure to meet with your son or daughter's teachers and the school principal to get a feel of the scholastic environment. How large are the classes? Are there afterschool activities that might interest your child? Are counselors or mentors available to help your child get acquainted with the new school and answer any questions?
Getting the answers to questions like these will help you understand what to expect, and you'll better be able to talk to your child about the school-related issues. As children become better adjusted and start to make friends, try to meet them as well. The more connected you can become to your son or daughter's daily life, the better dialogue you can foster.
#3 - Your Attitude Makes a Difference
The attitude that you project about the school switch can impact your child's attitude about it as well. If you express confidence and positivity about the change, that optimism can rub off. While it's crucial to address your child's anxieties about the transition, try to direct those concerns into actionable goals. For instance, if your teen is about to start high school and is worried about making friends, maybe suggest trying out for an afterschool sport. Offer potential solutions rather than feeding doubt.
#2 - Encourage Extracurricular Activities
One surefire way to get your child accustomed to his or her new school is to encourage extracurricular activities. If kids were involved in a specific activity at their old school, those are a great place to start. Even if they aren't particularly athletic, there are usually other clubs and organizations to get involved with, including band, theater, service clubs and student government. Not only do extracurricular opportunities present friendship opportunities, they're also a nice resume addition for a high school student looking to gain college admissions.
At the same time, remember that there can be too much of a good thing. If you have an adolescent soccer player, karate kid, painter and dancer all rolled into one, it may be wise to discuss cutting down on the afterschool pursuits. Kids need to relax just like adults do. Likewise, if you rarely see your teen between practices and club meetings, it could be a sign of overextension. Certainly, if grades begin to slip as activities ramp up, it's time to prioritize.
#1 - Adjusting Takes Time
Although you may like to think that kids will adjust to school in no time at all, that isn't always the case. Sometimes, they'll surprise you and come home with a new best friend on the first day of school. More often than not, it may take a little while longer for them to get comfortable. Be patient as they navigate their new school and continually encourage them to branch out without pestering them. If you spot signs of trouble, request a meeting with their teacher or school counselor to get a firsthand perspective on how your son or daughter is interacting with other and performing academically.
As a parent, providing a nurturing home and a loving attitude are some of the most valuable gifts you can provide to help your child face down fears and build confidence. Transitioning to new schools can be tough, but with time and parental support, children can reach the other side of it stronger and happier than before.