Jessica Rogers loved traveling and wanted to see the country, so while her two children were young, she and her husband Jeff moved across the country several times. That meant that the kids would have to start new schools several times.
“This year it’s their fourth new school,” says Rogers, mother to 12-year-old Rebecca and 11-year-old Alexander. “Starting a new school has challenges.”
Being the new kid at school can leave your child stressed and anxious and worried about not knowing anyone and making new friends. They may be afraid about getting lost and may be concerned about liking their teachers. If your child is starting a new school this year, there are some things you can do to help make their transition a little easier.
“Whether your child is moving to a different building or will be starting a brand new school, it’s a good idea to take advantage of the days when the building is open,” says Ann-Marie Sabrsula, M.A., of The Children’s School for Early Development in Hawthorne. “Spending time on the playground, walking through the building, or taking a few pictures or quick video during your visit are all ways to introduce your child to the setting.”
Ask if the school offers tours for new students, but if you decide to visit on your own, call first and make sure it’s okay to walk around the building. If you’re lucky, you might even run into the teacher or be able to peek into the classroom.
“Talk to your child’s new teacher and tell them what your child likes, what makes her scared or upset, some of her “favorites,” or what her learning style is,” says Sabrsula.
Part of a child’s fears about starting a new school is the fear of the unknown, so fill them in on what they can expect on the first day.
“Tell them that they might feel excited or even a little nervous or scared,” says Fran Walfish, Psy.D., a New York-based child and family psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent: Resolving Conflict and Building a Better Bond with Your Child (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2010). “They should know that these are natural feelings that everyone feels on their first day at school or in a new job.”
That’s exactly how Rogers handled things when her daughter Rebecca was nervous about starting her new school. “Her best friend at her old school was Marissa, so we planned for Marissa to visit in October,” says Rogers. “It gave her something to look forward to, but we also told her that Marissa was feeling the same things about starting at her new school too. When they got together, they talked about their feelings and it helped to cope.”
Rogers wanted her kids to have a friend or two before school started, so once she moved to the new area, she signed them up for community activities. They got involved in sports and scouts, and the family went to the pool and started talking to their new neighbors.
“If your child can make one or two friends before school starts, he will be so much happier to go to school,” says Walfish. “This is a sure antidote to school loneliness and feelings of isolation.”
Rogers says that the most important part of helping your child to adjust to a new school is patience, because they may not always have good days while they are adjusting.
“Everyone has a bad day every now and then when they are adjusting to something new,” says Rogers. “Just balance the highs with the lows and they will settle in eventually.”
Before you know it, your child’s nerves are replaced with big smiles and she is looking forward to school, their favorite new teacher and all their new friends. It’s going to be a great year!
Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer who was born and raised in Yonkers and now lives in Poughkeepsie, New York.