Moving can be hard. Moving schools at a young age can be harder. Whether it’s leaving friends behind or anxiety about moving up a grade, parents can make the move easier with lots of conversations.
Sara Anderson, Erikson Institute’s associate director of the Center for Children and Families, recommends a few ways that parents can help their children transition schools.
Help them say their goodbyes.
If the child is going to a new school in the fall, emphasize the importance of endings, loss and goodbyes. Ask him or her how they want to say goodbye, such as if they want to simply offer a hug to their favorite teachers or want to draw pictures for their friends.
Make it a slow process
Gradually introduce them to the new school and its surroundings. This can start out by driving around the school, venturing to the playground or walking around the outside of the building. This develops a clear narrative for the future school and makes the experience less daunting.
After they’re familiarized with the building’s exterior, attend an open house before the first day. This not only helps them meet other students and their teachers, but they can also get a sense of the physical space. Knowing the location of the library, the cafeteria and their classes can lessen those first-day jitters.
Talk through logistics and feelings
Apart from any changes in nap time, homework load and lunchtime logistics, there can be larger stressors children experience as they move schools. Talk to them about their feelings. If they’re going from elementary to middle school, the shift from one teacher to multiple instructors and classrooms can be stressful. So don’t hesitate to talk about their greater independence — such as taking the bus for the first time or being responsible for a new class schedule.
Continue rituals or routines
Transitioning schools doesn’t need to be scary. Enforcing a positive narrative can be as simple as encouraging some continuity, such as the drop-off ritual.
“Is it that you give your child a hug or kiss and you say goodbye, or you have a secret handshake, or you say the same thing every day?” Anderson says. “Talk about how you’re going to do that together.”
Find transition stories in popular media
Anderson recommends reading books and watching shows and movies about characters moving schools, having separation anxiety or others experiencing transitions:
- Disney Pixar’s Inside Out, where a 12-year-old girl overcomes her fears of attending a new school after moving states
- Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood episode Daniel Goes to School, where Daniel learns to be OK with his dad not going to school with him
- The Invisible String by Patrice Karst, a picture book about loss and separation anxiety
If children struggle to express their worries, parents can also prompt kids and talk through any fears they might have, Anderson says. Validating their feelings can greatly alleviate the stress kids might have as they enter a new school.
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