Starting a new school is exciting, but it can also be stressful. Not only does your child have to adjust to unfamiliar people and rules, but they are mourning the loss of their old school, friends, and teachers at the same time.
It’s normal for children to exhibit a mix of excitement and anxiety as the first week of school creeps closer. Help your family make the most of this new adventure by preparing for some common bumps along the way.
The fear of being without friends is typical for kids starting a new school. There are a few healthy ways to alleviate help your child overcome their fears and forge new friendships. First, assure them that the way they are feeling is normal. You may even want to share a time when you were in a similar situation and how you were able to work through it.
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Remind them of how they made friends at their other school. Helping them relive that success will give them the confidence to try again. Look for clubs or extracurricular activities for your child to join. This is an easy way to find other kids with similar interests and can help them begin new friendships.
After your child has started school, talk to their teacher to find out who they seem to be connecting with and reach out to their parents. An after-school trip to the park or a backyard playdate are low-pressure ways to help facilitate out-of-class friendships and relieve some of the pressure your child feels to make friends on their own.
It’s hard to feel confident when you’re lost. If possible, make a visit to the school before the first day. If you missed the scheduled orientation, contact the administration to arrange a tour. For middle and high school students, pick up their schedule and help them find their locker and all their classes. For younger kids, see if you can show them where their new classroom will be.
If your child walks to school or catches a bus, travel the route with them a few times before school starts. When they feel comfortable getting there on their own, you’ll both have less worry every day.
It’s natural for your child to miss their former school, favorite teachers, and best friends. Don’t gloss over these feelings. Help them make a scrapbook or picture that includes all the things they loved about their old school. Then have them add what adventures they want to have at their new school. Help them brainstorm new possibilities and ignite their excitement about getting to start fresh.
Consider making a “New School Bucket List” where they identify experiences they want to have and get to cross them off the list as they accomplish each one. Items like “play with two new kids at recess” or “remember all my classmates’ names” are attainable and help them focus on new experiences instead of fretting over what they’ve lost.
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Crying is one of the toughest things to deal with as a parent, but this behavior is a sign of fear and discomfort with their new situation. Talk to your child about their concerns and help them understand why they feel sad or scared.
If they are worried you won’t come back, remind them that you always have before. Give them a family photo or small token they can keep in their pocket to help them feel that you’re with them throughout the day.
Try to channel all the energy that’s going into crying into laughter instead. Laughing is another way to expel nervous energy — and is so much nicer than tears. Find ways to add giggling into your morning routine by playing silly games or telling jokes. Avoid tickling, however, as it can trigger the release of stress hormones.
Avoiding school altogether is another common way kids try to allay their fears, but we know that isn’t a realistic solution. If your child is feigning illness or otherwise trying to get out of school, you need to pay attention.
Ask them what happens at school; have them walk you through their day. Ask about interactions with the teacher and other children. Their answers should reveal whether they feel lonely, disliked, or overlooked, or if something else is going on, like an inability to see the whiteboard.
Once you know what is driving their avoidance, you can come up with solutions to help your child cope. If they feel left out at school, talk to the teacher and find out what they’ve observed. Encourage your child with stories of your own school days and how you dealt with uncomfortable situations and overcame fears.
It may seem like a nice reprieve, but if your child is extra quiet after school it could be a sign of trouble. If they are reluctant to talk about their day and seem less interested in usual after-school activities, try to find out what’s going on.
It could be as simple as feeling overwhelmed with all the changes. To help curb some of that anxiety make sure household routines are consistent and incorporate chances for you to regularly share some one-on-one time with each child. If you pick up your child from school, try to be a few minutes early so you’re the first thing they see when they step outside.
If talking to them and establishing a safe, comforting home routine doesn’t do the trick after a couple weeks, it’s time to reach out to the school. Find out how your child is really doing and see if their teacher has any suggestions. Partner with the school to help your child feel more secure both at home and away.
Change is always hard, but you can help your children embrace it. Be observant, share your own worries and how you overcame them, communicate with the school, and be available. Before you know it none of you will remember the awkward first days of school amid all the after-school playdates and sleepovers.
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