Preparing Your Child for the New School Year
A new school year and all of the changes that come with it can bring about much anticipation in the forms of excitement and nervousness. How to best prepare a child for the year ahead depends on many factors, such as the age of the child, whether the change is within a school or to a new school, the child’s history of coping with changes and transitions, and whether previous school experiences, if there were any, were positive or negative.
Age as a Determining Factor
As children grow older, they need less and less direct support in the transition from one school year to the next. Older children, if they are moving into their middle or high school years, benefit from parents being open to discussion in both a reflective and anticipatory way.
Younger children depend almost solely upon their parents and caregivers for support in times of transition. Programs for younger children typically incorporate phases in which children can meet their teachers and see their classrooms with the support of parents, and many programs offer extended periods during which parents can stay until children become at least somewhat acclimated to their new environment.
Change Within a School or Moving to a New School
Changes within a school can potentially make for smoother transitions because children have the opportunity to make use of preparations from their previous teacher(s). Furthermore, they can hold onto the comfort that they may still see their previous teacher(s) from time to time, which can make the goodbye feel less permanent.
Still, a change from one teacher to another means a new teacher-child relationship has to develop from the beginning. Teachers vary in style and approach, even within a program, and children have to adapt and accept help in new ways when they have new teachers.
As children transition from one teacher to another, they benefit from parents who talk about these changes. Children’s feelings for former teachers should be esteemed and, at the same time, children should be encouraged to enter into new relationships.
Parents can help by putting words to these experiences, reminding children that forging a new relationship takes work, and making comments such as, “Last year, Ms. Jones knew all about your love of cars. Ms. Smith doesn’t know that about you yet. We’ll have to make sure we let her know.”
When the change involves a move to a new school altogether, all of the comforts and familiarity of the previous school and teachers exist in memory only. In addition to a new classroom and the relationship with a new teacher, there are new peers and a new physical environment to navigate. Ongoing discussions about the feelings associated with the changes can give parents a sense of how their children are adapting to their new environment.
For children who have expressed a history of difficulty transitioning, or who have previously had a negative school experience, it is more crucial for parents to take additional measures and precautions to ensure a smooth transition and to prevent repeated failed experiences. If you have questions or concerns about your child’s ability to settle into a group in a school setting, share your concerns with your pediatrician, or request a consultation at the Lucy Daniels Center or with another qualified professional.
The Lucy Daniels Center is a nonprofit agency in Cary that promotes the emotional health and well-being of children and families. Visit lucydaniels.org to learn more.