Helping Kids Adjust to School
Have you just moved to a new area? Is your child just starting school or moving to a new school? Both parents and educators play a role in helping kids adjust to school. It is imperative that kids maintain high self-esteem and build trust with other children and adults throughout the process. Additionally, assisting children with this transition can give parents peace of mind and a natural opportunity to become involved in their children’s education.
School transitions can be an exciting time for children. However, they can also come with anxiety. It is natural for children to be apprehensive about their new teachers and classmates, as well as the logistics that are part of navigating a new school building and routine. It is important for parents not to feel isolated during this process or blame themselves if there are some bumps in the road.
When families work together with educators, transitions are more likely to go well. Here are just a few ways parents can assist their children.
• Arrange a get-together with another child. Children may be more at ease on the first day of school if they see at least one familiar face in the classroom. If possible, schedule a play date for your child with one of the children in his or her class before the new school year begins. Sometimes children are shy or nervous about hanging out with new classmates on their own. If possible, arrange for group social times where two or more children spend time together with you and other parents.
• Be enthusiastic. When parents display confidence and excitement about an impending change, children are more likely to feel the same way.
• Be prepared. Pay attention to how your child reacts to separation. Whenever possible, visit a new school and teachers together. Many schools host a back-to-school night or other opportunities for new students to visit before the school year starts. If no event scheduled, contact the school about arranging a visit.
• Implement daily routines. Starting daily routines prior to a new school year provides continuity. Have your child take an active role in these routines, such as picking out clothes or making a lunch the night before. Don’t forget to start adjusting to a new sleep schedule as well, so the first day of the school schedule doesn’t cause too much strain.
• Plan for the first day of school. Be prepared to spend a few extra minutes with your child for chatting on the first day of school and possibly through the first few weeks of school as well. This extra opportunity for communication may make the transition easier. It is important not to prolong the goodbye, to say a firm goodbye, and to not make fun of a child for being upset or scared. If your child does cry, offer a supportive statement such as, “It’s hard to say goodbye.”
• Provide opportunities for venting anxiety. Any child who is having trouble adjusting to school is feeling anxious or even fearful. One effective method for venting anxiety is laughing. Provide ample opportunities at home for laughing. Consider enjoying simple games and activities in the morning before school to relax your child. It is important to avoid tickling as it can heighten fear and increase stress hormones.
• Stay connected. Set aside several special one-on-one times with your child for conversation, shared reading, and other bonding activities. Work with your child to find times that suit both of you.
• Watch for indications of issues. Problems may not present themselves right away. It is not uncommon for school issues to arise only after a few weeks into a new school year. A child’s general unhappiness can stem from any number of serious issues at school, from not being able to see the chalkboard to being bullied. Take the time to ask questions about your child’s school day and listen intently, providing regular feedback to encourage him or her to keep the conversation going. If you sense that there is a big underlying issue that is not being discussed, consider calling the teacher.
About the author:
Erica L. Fener, Ph.D., is Vice President, Business Development Strategy and Analysis at Progressus Therapy, a leader in connecting their candidates with school-based therapy jobs and early intervention service jobs.