Help Ease a School Transition


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Question: We have just moved to a different part of the Triangle, and our children will be changing schools. Jack will be starting fourth grade and Jessica will be starting second grade. They both ask why they can't stay at their old school. How can we help them?

Answer: Times have changed. Nowadays, children frequently change schools during their elementary school years for a variety of reasons. This change is a challenge for all children, although some are more vocal about it than others - like your children.

Why is changing schools difficult?

Leaving a school involves a loss that every child will feel differently. One will particularly feel the separation from friends, another the inability to see former teachers. All experience the loss of familiar surroundings, routines and people.

A familiar structure provides emotional support when children encounter the daily emotional challenges of school academic and social life that may cause a bit of worry, self-doubt, embarrassment or other hard-to-bear emotion. So, it is natural for children to look ahead to a new school, with sadness over their loss and recognition that the old supports will not be there.

Children also worry about whether they will be successful in the new, unfamiliar environment. They worry: Will I be able to find my way around? Make friends? Manage the differences in the school routine or expectations?

Your children must say goodbye to their old school and hello to their new school.They will need your help with both tasks.

Bidding an old school farewell

Children first must mourn their losses. The best way to turn a loss into growth is through talking and remembering. Encourage your children to talk about their old school. They will not be in a strong position to reinvest in a new school with new people until they have given up what they had.

Your children may resist remembering too much. After all, these memories come with the longing for what is no more. So be tactful as you would with anyone with whom you were broaching a sensitive topic, but also be fearless. Share your memories of a teacher, your visit to the classroom, projects that your children did or stories they shared about their classroom.

Although it is also important to help Jack and Jennifer anticipate that there will be many wonderful opportunities in their new school, be careful not to quickly turn their longings into "but" statements, such as, "but you will make new friends." There are other times that you can provide this kind of encouragement. They are much more likely to bring up their longings if they know you will be there to give them a hug and recognize that some things are just lost.

Adjusting to a new school

You can help your children adjust to a new beginning by providing information that helps them anticipate and plan. Jack and Jessica will feel like competent, empowered, active participants in their own lives when they have information and plans that make sense. A sense that they can be active in a constructive way is their most important tool for coping with anxiety about change.

You can help prepare your children in many ways. Perhaps you can visit the school grounds and explore public areas. You can peruse the school website together. If you know a family whose children have attended the new school, invite them over for dinner and initiate a discussion about aspects of the school relevant to your children.

Learning about the environment your child will enter is an important way to prepare. Equally important is preparing them internally, or mentally, for the new environment. This is not the first time they have had to cope with change and unfamiliarity.

You could discuss with them individually that they were able to go to kindergarten, for example, even though they were a bit worried. You might ask, "Do you remember what you did to help yourself?" As they recall that they made friends, brought something that reminded them of home or found activities that were fun, they will remind themselves that they have the ability to actively find solutions and replace worry with comfort.

Learning to tolerate anxiety

Your children are likely to walk into school somewhat worried even if you are able to help them beforehand. There is no way to completely eliminate their worry ahead of time. You can also acknowledge this fact of life, and show your admiration for their ability to be a little worried but still carry on with their days. We call this "the capacity to bear anxiety." This ability to manage anxiety by keeping it in its place, even if it remains as a nagging presence, is a valuable component of mental health.

As a loving parent, you wish that your children didn't have any worries. However, worries are part of life, and with your good help, your children will be able to manage and overcome them, as well as bear the worries they cannot yet overcome. They have a challenge, but one that holds much opportunity, with your help, for continued emotional growth.

The Lucy Daniels Center is a nonprofit agency that promotes the health and well-being of children and families. The question may be a composite or illustration of parents' questions. To submit a question about children's emotional health and development, email editorial@carolinaparent.com with "Ask Lucy Daniels" in the subject line.

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Join us during National Moth Week to observe some of our night-flying neighbors – MOTHS! Discover how to attract moths and their caterpillars in your backyard, hear about some of their...

Cost: $10 ($9 Members): No Fee for Accompanying Adult

Where:
North Carolina Botanical Garden - Growing Classroom
100 Old Mason Farm Road
Chapel Hill, NC  27517
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Sponsor: NCBG
Telephone: 919-962-2887
Contact Name: Mike Dunn
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Annual Guides

Education Guide

The 2018-19 Education Guide offers 678 education resources in the Triangle, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools, academic resources and an Exceptional Child special section.

The Triangle Go-To Guide

Our Triangle Go-To Guide connects you to family fun resources across the Triangle. In our 2019-20 issue, explore 1,028 resources for family fun.