How to Help Your Kid Adjust to a New School

Whether your child is going from private to public school, preschool to kindergarten or from one district to another, these tips can help with the transition.

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.

Pamela Davis-Kean, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, offered a few tips for parents to help their children transition schools.

Introduce them to the school and its surroundings

If the new school is in a different neighborhood, show your kids the route from home to the building. Or, familiarize them with the building by attending an open house or walking through their schedule. Going through their new daily routine, from drop-off to pick-up, can help alleviate their fears of change.

Find the school’s network

With the barrage of pamphlets and charts and newsletters and emails, it’s easy to feel bogged down. While some information can be found online or through talks with school administrators, be sure to communicate with other parents, former and current students, or even real estate agents about the school’s atmosphere. Informal conversations at meet and greets help parents and children gain insight into the school’s atmosphere, such as which sports and clubs are most popular.

Practice the locker combination

It may sound like an allegory but memorizing a locker combination is one of the most daunting stressors about the move from elementary to middle school. If parents can, get the numbers before the first day and locate the locker with their child. Practice opening and closing the locker with them as they memorize the combination.

This not only helps them gain independence, but it also solves a possible health issue. When children hesitate to use their locker, they forgo it and carry everything in their backpack, which can get too heavy for their growing bodies, says Davis-Kean.

Talk through all the changes

The transition rarely is as simple as different teachers and a new backpack. For kids who jump from elementary to middle school, communicate with them about everything from curriculum changes to sports being more competitive to puberty. This is an age when peers take on more importance than parents in children’s lives, so be clear about shifts they might experience.

“Anything you can help them with prior to it being introduced to them still might not go great, (they) still might have problems opening the locker, but at least they know what’s coming,” Davis-Kean says.

Also, emphasize the commonality of their fears. Help them understand everyone’s worried about the first day. If the child is old enough, parents can talk about their own fears, or even share memories of their first day at a new school. This helps children not feel alone in their concerns.

Keep in contact with old friends

A common worry is losing friendships. But through Zoom, social media and the power of texting, it’s easy to keep in touch with friends who live far away. If the child is too young for a cellphone, though, parents can help set up a weekly FaceTime call or visits on holidays with old friends.

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