8 ways to help your child adjust to a new school

The big move: 8 ways to help your child adjust to a new school

A new school year means a change in the life of your child. Some changes may be more significant for children than for others – especially if they are starting a new school following a move.

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Children getting on a school bus

Some anxiety should be expected as the new school year gets underway. Every child is different and will handle change in his or her own unique way. Here are a few tips to help your child cope with a significant change in their school environment:

  • Make time your ally. If you are going to move 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 new school, and allow them to process what is going to happen. And after the move, do not forget to give your child time to adjust.
  • If you can, show your child their new home, neighborhood and school prior to your move. Arranging for a tour of the school is a great way to help your child get more comfortable with their new environment.
  • For older children, explore potential extracurricular activities at school and in the community, such as sports, school clubs or church youth groups.
  • Acknowledge any anxiety, anger or sadness, and use open-ended questions. 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. It sounds like you’re upset.”
    • “What do you think might be hardest for you?”
    • “What are you most looking forward to? What might you be looking forward to the least? What are you most worried about?”
  • 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.”
  • Be willing to listen without judgment or dismissing their worries as unrealistic, even if you do not agree with their reasons for feeling the way they do.
  • Set an example by modeling healthy coping behavior, including admitting your own general anxiety or sadness about the move by demonstrating how to deal with those feelings in a healthy way.
  • Remind your child, particularly your teen, of his or her personality strengths and how those strengths can be used to make friends quickly at their new school. For example:
    • Do they have a great personality that will likely make it easier for them to make friends? Tell them.
    • Do they typically excel academically? Remind them of how confident and proud of them you are.
    • Are they artistic and creative? Talk with them about how they can use their talents in navigating classes and social life.

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anxiety, behavior, cognitive, depression, emotion, mental health, psychology, psychiatry