By: Michele Timmons
Last year I started a new job that was very different than all of my past jobs. While I was excited for the new challenge, I was also nervous. I didn’t really know anyone. I had no idea how the company operated, and wasn’t sure about what I would be expected to do. I remember worrying about things. Will I do a good job? Will the people I work with like me? What do they do about lunch? How do I avoid looking like a fool when I ask questions about processes and procedures?
My guess is that most adults have faced this same situation at least a couple times. Most adults have pretty good coping skills--while we may be nervous, we generally understand how to handle new situations. However, children who are starting the year in a new school are likely to be extremely nervous. They have to learn to navigate a new system, meet new teachers, make new friends, and still get their school work done. Some children have built-in coping skills and are naturally able to adjust to new schools, but most children need a little extra support.
Here are six "C.H.A.N.G.E.S." you can make to help any child transition to a new school.
C: CLEAR COMMUNICATION
Whether the child is just starting school, moving from one building to the next in the same district, or your family has moved, it is important to take time out and talk about these changes. The more often you talk positively about the new school, the better your child will feel about the transition. If the change is a result your family moving, this conversation is even more important. Talk to your child about why you have to move and why you chose this school. Try to keep conversations positive by focusing on what is good about the move and the new school. Honesty is always important. If you are nervous about the move, talk about it. Sharing ideas about how you are dealing with the transition yourself will also help your child understand her feelings. One of the Parent Further’s 9 Parenting Strategies is Open and Honest Communication. Click here for more ideas to improve communication with your kids.
H: HONOR YOUR CHILD’S VOICE
When you are talking to your child about the transition, listen! Avoid saying things like “Aren’t you worried?” or “It’s no big deal.” Instead, give them the opportunity to tell you how they feel. Really listen to them and honor their feelings. Dr. Stephen Duncan offers several great suggestions for listing and honoring youth voice in his blog, Listening To Children With Head And Heart. Click here for tips to help you improve your listening skills.
The research behind ParentFurther suggests that youth who are connected and bonded to their school show increased academic achievement. The sooner your child can become involved in activities at the new school, the easier the transition. Many schools now offer Summer Bridge programs for new students. If your school offers Summer Bridge, make arrangements for your child to participate. These programs are typically only a couple days and are focused on building strong, personal relationships among staff and students. They also provide new students with the opportunity to get to know the school and expectations. Talk to the principal and counselor to see if there are any sports or other activities happening at school over the summer. My two older sons moved from a small private elementary to a large public high school and had some concerns about fitting in at their new school. By joining the soccer team, my boys were able to make friends before school ever started. This was a great help to their self esteem and bonding to school.
N: NOTICE CHANGES IN BEHAVIOR
School transitions can be extremely hard for some children. Sometimes difficulties your child might be experiencing can result in them acting out, withdrawing, or other behaviors inconsistent with their regular personality. A friend of mine was late for a meeting recently because her six- year-old daughter was throwing a major temper tantrum on the way to school. When they finally got to the heart of the problem, it was because her daughter’s best friend was moving. If this transition is so hard for a friend, think about the impact on the little girl who was moving.
If your child is behaving differently before or after school begins, go back to the first two tips. Open a line of communication and really listen. Together, brainstorm ways to help him feel a little better about the new school and/or new community. Getting angry at the behavior will not help. Click here for some extra tips to help when you and your child don’t see eye to eye. If behavior changes are extreme, don’t wait; seek professional help.
G: GET TO KNOW THE SCHOOL
The more time you and your child spend at the school before school starts, the more comfortable he or she will be once school begins. Ask school officials to give you and your child a tour. Then spend a little time talking to the principal, counselor, or secretary while your child does a little exploring on her own or with another parent/sibling. You could even give your child a couple of mini- challenges while you talk. For example, ask your child to take a watch and time herself to see how long it takes to find her classroom and then find the bathroom, the cafeteria, and then get back to you. Then she could do it in reverse to see if she can do it faster. Little activities like this will help your child build confidence and minimize many first-day of school fears.
E: ENGAGE SCHOOL STAFF
Before school starts, set up a time to meet your child’s teachers(s), counselor, and principal. Tell them a few reasons why your child is so awesome! This gives the school staff a little insight into your child and helps them remember your child in a positive way. If your child is moving into the area or transferring from another school, it can be helpful to share with the counselor or principal some of the reasons for the move. There may be programs they have for new students or for students experiencing similar challenges. It is also a good idea to request a buddy if your child is entering school after the year starts or coming from somewhere else. A buddy will give your child a built in friend on the first day of school that has a similar schedule and possibly similar interests.
Every young person has sparks.
Sparks can be fanned into a major talent or passion and, ultimately, a critical contribution to the world at large. With a little help, kids can find their spark—and learn to make it grow into a positive, life-enhancing energy. Sparks help give young people joy and energy, meaning, purpose, and direction. Pursuing and developing sparks helps young people make positive choices about their activities and use of time, helps them fully reach their potential, and helps them contribute to their families, schools, and communities right now, as young people. As your child is transitioning to a new school, helping them find their spark (or quickly getting them back involved in spark activities) is very important. Young people with sparks lead more caring, responsible, healthy, and productive lives than those who do not.
We all want our children to be happy, healthy and resilient--not afraid and uncomfortable. Change can be uncomfortable, but being the “new kid” will happen to everyone at some point. It's important our children learn to cope with those uncomfortable feelings.