Moving, like all other major transitions, can be tough on kids. This is especially true if the move requires a change in schools. Kids find comfort in familiarity and routine, so new neighbors, a new bedroom, and a new school can all cause stress and anxiety. As a parent, it’s your job to help ease the transition as much as possible, and fortunately, there are things you can do to speed up the process and help kids adapt to a new school more quickly. Whether you’re about to move or just settling in, follow the advice below to make the transition to a new school less scary for your little one.
Start the conversation early
Give your child as much time as you can to process the upcoming change. Having an open and honest conversation about what the move means for them is one of the most important things you can do to help kids conquer the anxiety of such a major life shift. Ask about their concerns with regards to starting at a new school, and offer a listening ear to all of their worries, providing reassurance and actionable advice where applicable. You won’t be able to alleviate all of their fears, but knowing that you’re an ally in the process will give them the stability they need to get through it.
Keep a positive attitude
Kids have a keen eye for picking up on your own perceptions of a situation, so if you want them to stay positive about moving to a new school, you’ll want to be positive about it too. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t acknowledge the inherent difficulties of switching schools, but you should play up the exciting aspects of it, focusing on the opportunities and not the drawbacks. The more enthusiasm you bring to the table, the more your child will associate the move with positivity—even if the anxiety still exists.
Give kids some control over the situation
A lot of the fear around moving to a new house and a new school is centered around a lack of control. Having such little control over your environment is one of the most difficult parts of being a kid, and it can be compounded when changes are being made that your child doesn’t like or understand. Combat this by providing them with an opportunity to make choices and control some aspects of the process. If there’s an option of which school to attend in your new neighborhood, let your child visit each of them and make the decision themselves. If there’s only one school choice, give them control in smaller ways, such as letting them pick out their new backpack and school supplies. Any amount of control you hand over will show your kid that their voice and opinion matter, in turn giving them some stability in an otherwise tumultuous period.
Go for a sneak peek
To help kids adapt to a new school, go for a visit before their first day. Walk around the building and the grounds, meet the principal and their new teacher, scope out their locker, and get a feel for where places like the cafeteria and gym are. This way, when day one does come around, they’ll already have a general idea of what to expect. If you can, try to go when school is in session so your child can see for themselves what it’s like there. The first few days will still be a bit overwhelming for them, but at least the basics won’t be so daunting.
Create a routine together
Familiarize your child with their new school routine before it starts. Come up with a plan for what mornings will look like and drive or walk the new route. In the same vein as the advice above, seeing how things will work can help kids adapt to a new school by taking as much guesswork as possible out of what the experience will be like. Hold on to as many traditions as you can from your child’s previous school day routine—carrying them over will introduce added layers of familiarity to the situation.
If you have the time, it can be helpful to your child if you get involved in the new school yourself. Go to the orientation sessions, and sign up to be a class parent or PTA member. Even if you weren’t so involved in the last school or if you don’t intend of keeping up this level of involvement long term, engaging with your kid’s new school is a way to tackle this adventure together.
Talk to the school’s staff
On your own, meet with your child’s new teacher(s) and principal and get them involved in easing the transition. Perhaps they’ll be able to introduce your child to a classmate who was recently the new kid in school themselves, or maybe instead of asking students to pick their own partners for a project in the first couple weeks of school (a prospect that can be harrowing for someone who doesn’t know anybody well yet), they can assign partners. They can also check in with your child during the day to make sure he or she is doing okay, and offer advice or guidance as needed. Having an on-the-ground support system will help your kid adjust, and it will give you peace of mind too.
Schedule a playdate
One of the scariest parts of a new school for kids is having to make new friends. Even in elementary school friend groups tend to be well-established, and breaking in is hard. While you can’t go in and make friends for your child, you can help facilitate friendship building by scheduling a get together with someone else in your child’s class. This depends on their age, of course (you probably wouldn’t want to schedule a playdate for a middle schooler), but if your child is young enough to have plans set up for them then taking the initiative yourself will provide them with a way to get to know a new classmate one-on-one.
Sign your child up for an extracurricular activity
Another way to help your kid form new friendships is to sign them up for an after school activity. Help them choose one or more they might enjoy and get them enrolled as soon as you can. It might be easier for them to connect with their peers over a shared interest like sports, games, or theater than it is for them to connect during the school day. If they were already enrolled in an activity they enjoyed at their last school, or if they say they don’t want to do any activities, you can just go ahead and sign them up on your own—sometimes that extra push is needed to get a child out of their comfort zone.
Don’t forget the last school
Just because your kid is at a new school doesn’t mean the experience of their last school matters any less. Make a point of keeping in touch with old friends and teachers, and go back to visit if you’re close enough. While the focus shouldn’t be all on the old school (that can make it harder for your kid to adapt to the new one), the memories shouldn’t be minimized either.
Schedule in lots of quality time at home
Even a brand new home is going to be a safe haven for your child as they adjust to their school. After all, home is where their family and all their stuff is—two big holdovers from their previous life. Be sure to make family time a priority, continuing both the routines and traditions that help your child feel safe and happy and the conversation about new school concerns and stresses that you started before your move. Siblings are great confidants in scary situations, so if you have more than one kid encourage them to talk to each other about how it’s going with their new school. It will be incredibly helpful for your child to know they always have a support system at home.
Don’t set unrealistic expectations
Be patient with your child’s transition. Even extroverted kids may not adjust to a new school right away, and setting expectations about when or how they should be adapting isn’t going to do them any favors. Instead, always be there to lend an ear when needed, and understand that getting settled takes time. Children have a limited worldview, and something that might not seem like a huge deal to you—such as having trouble finding their way around their new school or being on the outside of an in-joke among their classmates—is going to feel a lot bigger to them. Be supportive, be present, and be a non-judgmental shoulder for your child to lean on.
You can help kids adapt to a new school but you can’t do it for them. Know that things will eventually get easier though, and one day, this new school will be just as comfortable as the last one