A new school year means a change in your child's life. Some changes may be more significant for children than for others – especially if they are moving to a new school.
Six tips for moving to a new school
Nicholas J. Westers, Psy.D., ABPP, a clinical psychologist at Children's Health℠ and Associate Professor at UT Southwestern, shared the following tips to prepare your child for the transition to a new school and help them adjust to their new school environment.
1. Give your child time to adjust to their new school environment
If you are moving to a new neighborhood or town, tell your child about the move well in advance. Try giving them at least a month to ask questions about their new home and school and allow them to ask questions and support their concerns about the change.
2. Ease transitions to the new school
If possible, show your child their new home, neighborhood and school before you move. Arranging for a tour of the school is a great way to help your child get more comfortable and prepare them to navigate their new school.
3. Validate your child's feelings
Validating your child's feelings means acknowledging and accepting their emotions as real and legitimate, even if you don't feel the same way.
“Telling your child that 'you have no reason to worry' or 'don't worry, you'll be fine' is unlikely to ease their fears and discomfort about the change,” Dr. Westers says.
Instead, he encourages parents to validate their child's feelings with statements like:
- It sounds like you're a little anxious about the first day of school, and that's okay.
- I know going to a new school is hard for you. It's hard for everyone.
4. Ask questions to explore their feelings about the move
Asking your child open-ended questions can help you better understand their feelings about attending a new school. For example, if they are unhappy about the move, ask questions one at a time and allow them time to respond before asking the next question:
- "I know moving can be hard. "What do you think might be hardest for you?"
- "What are you most worried about?"
- "What are you most looking forward to?
“These types of questions help validate what your child is feeling and learn what they are most worried about,” Dr. Westers says. “We might think they're worried about one thing, but they may actually be worried about something completely different.”
Younger children may have difficulty articulating their thoughts and feelings, especially related to anxiety or the move. If they have difficulty responding to open-ended questions, it is OK to provide more guided questions or comments that also assist with labeling their feelings, like:
- "I wonder if you might miss your friends."
- "I wonder if you might be excited to meet new people but also afraid you might have trouble making new friends."
5. Help your child deal with feelings in healthy ways
Helping your child learn and use healthy coping strategies can also help them navigate the transition to a new school. Dr. Westers recommends working with your child to create a list of active coping strategies that they can use if they're feeling overwhelmed or anxious.
“Active strategies take effort and focus, like reading, exercising, drawing, writing, playing music and praying,” Dr. Westers says. “Passive strategies, like sleeping or watching a favorite show, also have a place in managing anxieties, but shouldn't be the go-to activity that kids lean on when they're processing a big change like starting a new school.”
Dr. Westers also recommends that parents model and use active healthy coping strategies too.
“A lot of parents may not want to influence kids with their own stress and anxiety but research shows that when parents are stressed, kids can feel it even if parents try to hide it,” Dr. Westers says. “So rather than trying to hide it and telling your child you never feel anxious, instead try modeling healthy coping skills. You might tell them 'sometimes when I feel anxious, I go for a walk, read a book or reach out to a friend.'”
6. Get kids involved in activities they enjoy
Make time to find activities at the new school and in the community that your child is interested in joining. If sports, school clubs or church youth groups were part of their routine before, prioritize those activities. Moving is also a good time to try something new. Participating in social events with other kids can give your child good opportunities to meet new friends and grow their community in their new home.
Children's Health is here to help as your child prepares for a new year at school. See more tips and advice for making this school year a healthy and happy one.