Changing Schools

Jan Faull, M. Ed, answers a parent's question about easing the transition to a new school.
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Q. We moved to a new state this past May, and our daughter who is 10 and son who is 13 will be in new schools this fall. They are already missing their friends. I think this is going to be a difficult year. Is there anything I can do to make this transition easier?

A. To gain some perspective on the situation your children face realize that moving to a new state, city, neighborhood, house and starting a new school has upsides and downsides socially, emotionally and intellectually.

Socially. The obvious downside is that most of the kids in your children's classrooms have well established groups and friendships. Therefore, your children will need to determine how to break into the social scene. The upside is that at the beginning of every school year there's always a period of adjustment and reforming of groups and friendships for all the kids. Therefore, fitting in might not be as difficult as it initially seems.

Intellectually. The mental downside is that your children face not only the challenge of a new school year's curriculum but they also must figure out how to make their way around in an unfamiliar building with unfamiliar schedules and rules. They'll each be asking, "What's the same, what's different, how will I need to adapt?" The upside is that as they learn how to function in this new setting, they'll develop skills that will serve them well when starting middle school for the younger and high school for the older, and eventually off to college.

Emotionally. The downside is that your children will face feelings of loneliness, unfamiliarity and being left out as the new kid on the block and at school. Although you'd probably like to protect them from these feelings, realize you can't. It's best if they embrace these emotions and in so doing they develop emotional strength. The upside is that they'll learn fully how to manage these emotions so won't be emotionally paralyzed when facing the emotions that any new environment brings.

On the more practical side:

  1. Register your children for familiar activities such as scouts, sports or music lessons.
  2. Keep close as a family by maintaining family rituals and routines, birthdays and holiday celebrations, and religious involvements.
  3. Encourage your children to email, call and send pictures to the friends they're missing.
  4. Be available to talk about the similarities and differences between their old school and friends and the new ones.
  5. Get involved in your children's schools. Volunteer in the classroom, get involved in the PTA.
  6. Don't push your children to fit in, exude confidence that they'll find their place in their own way and time.
  7. Seek professional help, if by winter break one or both is not making the adjustment to their new school.
  8. Jan Faull, MEd, is a veteran parent educator and the author of four parenting books, including Darn Good Advice -- Baby and Darn Good Advice -- Parenting. She writes a biweekly parenting advice column for this site and a weekly parenting advice column in the Seattle Times. Jan Faull is the mother of three grown children and lives in the Seattle area.


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