Ask Dr. Ava: School-Year Start

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Easing the Transition To a New School

As your child moves into the preteen years, fears about his growing sense of identity are going to cause him the most worry. In these years (9 to 12), friendship is all-important to your child's security and happiness. That's why this is one of the hardest times to face a change of schools. If you've just moved to a new district or town, your preteen is bound to be both sad and mad about leaving his old life behind. If possible, help him keep his connection to old friends via e-mail, visits (if feasible), and vacation plans. But at the same time, you also need to encourage your preteen to build connections to his new community. To do this, you may have to play a more active role than you have in the past. Kids this age often feel shy and awkward about initiating plans when they're not sure of their welcome as "the new kid." By planning fun group activities where your preteen can meet other kids (bowling, skating, etc.), hosting pizza parties on holidays, or offering to head up a scout troop or teach a Sunday School class, you may be able to help your preteen "break the ice."

Finally, while help with special skills, sports, clubs, and extra-curricular activities can speed your child's adjustment, the best medicine for the back-to-school blues is being able to talk to a compassionate parent who understands how tough it is to face new challenges or make important changes in your life. So spend as much time as you can with your child in these weeks before school starts. Your special efforts will help her have a great school year!

Dr. Siegler is the director of the Institute for Child, Adolescent Family Studies in New York City, and the author of two award-winning books for parents, What Should I Tell the Kids? A Parent's Guide to Real Problems in the Real World (Plume, 1994), and The Essential Guide to the New Adolescence: How to Raise an Emotionally Healthy Teenager (Plume, 1998). She is married and the mother of two children.


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