Whether your family has relocated, you’ve decided to switch your child to a new school, or it’s time to enter middle school or junior high, it’s normal for your child — even a young child — to experience some stress and anxiety about the impending change. These feelings can be powerful — if dismissed or ignored, they could adversely affect your child’s mental health, academic performance and social development. As summer comes to a close, use these tips to help your child manage the transition to a new school.
Most schools offer an orientation day or back-to-school fair for families to get acquainted with classrooms, teachers and school policies. Attend these events with your child if possible. If the school does not offer orientation — or you can’t make it — contact the administration to arrange a tour of the building and meet with your child’s teacher one-on-one before the first day of school. The goal? To remove as many unknowns as possible so that your child can begin to get comfortable with a new place and new people.
Plan playdates with future classmates.
Social media has made it easy to tap into community networks. While it may take some courage to put an invitation out there to virtual strangers, if you’re a member of a neighborhood or school Facebook group, suggesting a playdate will likely be met with enthusiasm from other parents. Not only will it ease your child’s anxiety to know there are friendly and familiar faces at school, it will help you expand your network as well.
Research the school together.
Technology to the rescue once again! Schools now promote their communities, teachers, clubs and special projects by regularly posting updates online. Get your child interested and excited about school by researching it together. Look at photos, read about the teachers and find out what’s unique about your child’s new school.
Get your child involved.
Encourage your child to participate in a school sport or club — it’s a great way to make new friends who have common interests. In addition, studies have shown that students who participate in extracurricular activities have a stronger sense of belonging and higher self-esteem, which can result in other positive outcomes, like improved grades and a reduction in at-risk behavior.
Maintain back-to-school routines.
The first few days at a new school will likely feel especially overwhelming to your child, so sticking with familiar routines and rituals is critical. This will help lessen the uncertainty your child feels. Do your best to keep stress levels low at home and continue practicing healthy habits, which can be easy to ignore during times of transition. Make sure your child is eating healthy meals, getting enough sleep and participating in physical activity.
Be a good listener.
Once the school year begins, pay special attention to what your child is telling you. While some kids may want to give you a play-by-play of their day, others may not be so chatty. If your child is slow to share, resist the urge to bombard her with questions. Instead, find moments together to read or play a game and see if your child naturally offers information about what she’s feeling — even if she doesn’t share details. If you’re not getting any information or you are concerned about what you’re hearing, reach out to the teacher to make sure your child is adjusting.
Stay positive and be honest.
Leaving friends and a familiar school behind is tough for kids, and it’s normal for parents and caregivers to feel lost over how to help them manage these feelings. First, it’s important to not stress out about the situation. Your stress will only fuel your child’s anxiety. Do your best to stay positive, but be empathetic as well. Allow your child to express his concerns, and be honest that there will be some situations at the new school that could be stressful at first and that’s OK. Add a constructive spin to the situations your child is most nervous about. Remind her of how many “firsts” she’s had in her life that have turned into positive experiences. Talk through scenarios, such as how to approach new people. Giving your child the social tools she needs to face a new school will help her feel more prepared and less anxious.