Change can be difficult for children, especially when it comes to starting a new school. Dr. Amy Goetz shares some ways for parents to help ease this transition.
Question: How does moving to a new school impact a child?
Answer: Most children will change schools at some point in their lives, and it is not uncommon for there to be an adjustment period in the first several months after making such a change. The idea of changing schools can be met with a mix of emotions – excitement, worry, sadness, just to name a few. A move in schools is often accompanied by a new school building as well as new teachers, classrooms and peers, and a move can be more difficult when it’s accompanied by a new home environment or when it occurs in the middle of the school year. Often, the reason for the move may influence how a child responds. Moving to a new neighborhood and school district may lead to a unique set of challenges compared to a child who is moving from their neighborhood elementary to the neighborhood middle school.
Q: Is there a certain age where kids have a harder time adjusting to a new school? An age when they have an easier time?
A: How children adjust to a new learning environment is often dependent on their age. A kindergartener or first grader may handle the transition and display their stress by acting out through a tantrum whereas a teenager may display more verbal frustration. There is not necessarily an age where children have an easier time changing schools.
Q: In what ways do you typically see stress come out in kids when they start a new school?
A: Some changes in your child’s mood or behavior are to be expected during times of transition; however, if changes persist, it may mean that your child could use some support. Signs to watch for include repeated refusal to go to school, changes in sleep or eating habits, irritability or withdrawing from others. If you notice that your child is struggling, it’s important to talk to them. It is also important to talk with their teachers and school administrators about ways to help your child. Teachers and school personnel will have resources to help and have likely helped many other children who have struggled with these same things.
Q: How long does it take a child to adjust to a new school?
A: The amount of time it takes for a child to settle into a new school depends on the child. Some kids may feel comfortable in their new school within days or weeks while others may take several months to adjust.
Q: How can parents ease a child’s transition to a new school (not only for the first day but also for the first couple of months)?
A: There are several things that parents can do to help ease the school transition. It’s recommended that you discuss the move with your child well in advance of when it will take place and, if possible, tour the new school before the first day. While it’s recommended that parents be enthusiastic and positive about the upcoming move, parents should also allow their child to talk about any concerns, fears or worries they have. Some children may be worried about getting lost in the new building or making friends. Take the time to listen and validate your child’s fears. Let them know that you understand that this can be scary. If your child does know others at the new school, it can be helpful to have your child arrive at school with these children on the first day.
-By Anna Kiappes