Being the new kid in town is never easy, and that rings true for kids starting a new school. Whether your child is entering a new elementary, middle or high school this year, or has to switch schools mid semester, being new in the classroom can make students feel a little anxious.
As back-to-school season approaches, we spoke with Anisha Patel-Dunn, DO, psychiatrist and chief medical officer at LifeStance Health, who shared tips for parents to help ease their child’s transition to a new school.
Tips for Starting a New School
Starting a new school can be scary for a student at any age. As back-to-school time approaches, how can parents talk to their child about what to expect at a new school?
Change of any kind can be anxiety-provoking for children. If your child is about to start at a new school, I recommend starting the conversation early. Ask open-ended questions to understand how they’re feeling and what they might be nervous about so you can best support them during this transition.
Every child will react slightly differently and will need personalized support, and this is a great way to understand your child’s unique perspective. It can also be helpful to normalize what they’re feeling—you can let them know it’s normal to have a range of emotions (some of which might feel conflicting, like being nervous and excited at the same time) and this is not an isolated experience.
Think of this as an ongoing dialogue and continue to check in regularly with your child heading into the school year. It can also be beneficial to carve out additional opportunities for family bonding ahead of this transition, so they have dedicated time to connect with you to share any concerns.
What about a child who has to transfer to a new school during the school year due to a family move or other reasons? Are there any special tips to keep in mind for starting a new school mid-semester?
This may feel particularly difficult for many children, as they may be sensitive to the fact that the other students have a “leg up” in terms of navigating the school, having a set routine and making friends. Again, use this as an opportunity to ask open-ended questions and understand where your child may be struggling. Then, you can work with them to develop a plan and coping techniques to address some of these concerns.
When a child is starting a new school, there are new school rules and policies that kids and families will have to learn and follow. Kids will also want to make new friends and will have to settle into a new routine or schedule. What are some tips for helping with these aspects of starting a new school?
- If possible, tour the school ahead of time. Help your child get familiar with the layout and where their classes will be held. Anything you can do to help the first day of school feel less “new” and overwhelming is a great tactic.
- When starting a new school, it can be helpful to meet other families from the new school so your child can go into their first day already knowing some familiar faces. Some schools may directly facilitate this but if not, you can also explore joining Facebook groups to connect with local parents.
- Practice role-playing various scenarios in a low stress environment at home to help your child build confidence with navigating that they perceive as new or stressful situations.
- Get involved with sports, clubs or other extracurricular activities when starting a new school—this can be a great way to connect with other children who have common interests and hobbies, which is a great starting point to build new friendships.
- Get in touch with your child’s teacher, school counselor and/or principal—they can be great resources to support your child with any challenges they may be facing while they adapt to a new school environment while ensuring they have a strong support system on campus.
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