Growing up, my family moved a lot. Besides being concerned about whether or not I would have to share a new bedroom with my older sister, I was most worried about being the new kid at school. It was one of my biggest fears as a child — besides the invisible gorilla that I insisted lived behind my tiny tube TV.
Fortunately, and by the grace of luck, I never had to live out my fear. My parents found a way to make sure that my siblings and I went to the same small school district until we all graduated.
Some kids aren’t as lucky.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than two million families with children between the ages of 6 and 17-years old move every year.
Starting at a new school can create a lot of anxiety for your child, no matter how old they may be. A new challenge or transitioning to an unfamiliar place can be a nerve-wracking experience for anyone, adults included.
So, if you may find yourself to be a parent of a new kid in town, here are some suggestions and ways to make the transition easier for you and your child.
Visit your child’s new school as soon as possible
This might be easier said than done. You might be hustling to get your new home in order or tending to other responsibilities. We get it. Life happens. But try to make this a priority before the school year begins.
Visiting the school with your child will not only ease some of your child’s nerves, but it might calm yours as well.
Deana Lenz, a school counselor in the Canajoharie Central School District in Canajoharie, NY suggests reaching out as soon as possible to your child’s new school.
“Talk with the school about having your child meet their teacher and school counselor so they’ll recognize a few familiar faces on the first day of school,” Lenz said. “Try to set up a one-on-one visit with the counselor and or teacher and explain your concerns about this new journey. It helps to build a relationship with the people who will spend a lot of their time with your child.”
Some schools have an orientation for parents and students before the new school year begins. At orientation, students and parents can meet with teachers and counselors and learn more about academic and social expectations. Students will also get to see where they will be spending some of their time during day, like their classroom, the gymnasium and the cafeteria.
Talk it out
Before your child begins their first day at their new school, talk to them about their feelings. You can ask questions like:
What are you most excited about at your new school?
What are you most worried about on your first day of school?
Start this conversation, but be aware that emotions may emerge. Make sure to listen to their words, summarize what they are saying and show understanding. Don’t try to problem-solve the emotions until you have thoroughly heard them and have been asked for solutions.
Keep an eye out for behavioral change
Some children may adjust just fine to the transition to their new school, while others might struggle. When I started sixth grade, it was in a new building with new, well, everything. Even though I knew my classmates, the transition from elementary school to middle school was very hard for me. I made every excuse in the book to not go to school. I wanted nothing to do with my new school. Eventually, I talked it out with my parents and mustered up some courage to go back to school and overcome this anxiety I had.
Watch for signs of strain and stress in your child such as repeatedly refusing to go to school or making excuses to miss a day. If this occurs, talk to your child. If you notice they’re showing signs of poor transitioning, it is essential to speak to them about it and arrange a meeting with their teacher(s) and or school counselor, so you can target the sources of your child’s angst. School psychologists can also help with difficult transitions if needed.
“It’s a great idea to schedule an appointment to meet with your child’s school counselor,” Lenz said. “That way, your child will be acquainted with someone at their new school, and the school counselor can ask questions to better know the student.”
According to Lenz, this meeting is the perfect time to address and concerns you may have about the transition. That way, the school is aware and can help to better support your child.
Welcoming the new kid at school
If your child isn’t the new kid, they can still make an impact. Growing up, my parents always taught me that if I see someone sitting alone, I should sit and befriend them. You never know what may be going on, and a friendly smile or conversation can help make a new student feel welcome.
Encourage your child to ask questions and get to know the new student. It puts the new child at ease by showing genuine interest.
Where did you go to school before you came here?
What is your favorite video game/sport/music genre/TV show/subjects?
Do you have any siblings?
Being the new kid might seem scary, but it doesn’t need to be. Open up the conversation, check in with your child before and after school each day. Reach out to their teachers and or school counselor monthly or weekly if needed. There will be someone there to help your child during their transition, should they need it.
Any maybe next year, your child will be ready to help welcome and transition a new group of students to their new school.
Sara Wheeler is a public information specialist for the Capital Region BOCES Communications Service in Albany, NY.