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The New Kid on the Block: Helping Children Adjust to a New School
When the "new kid" happens to be your kid, you want to make it as easy as possible for your child.
Your first point of contact with a new school is typically a principal for younger children and a guidance counselor for middle- or high-school-age children. Contact the school for recommendations; these may include an orientation day or even a “camp” that is offered for all children as they make a transition from one school to another (for example, this is common at the end of elementary school as children move to middle school). Parents can ask school professionals for assistance in easing the transition and for suggestions for visiting the school ahead of time or touring the building.
This contact can also help parents learn about opportunities to be involved in the school --- whether volunteering in the classroom, the school library, or simply making an appointment to meet with the principal prior to the start of school. Staying connected to the school is an important way for parents to keep an eye on how things are going for their child and keep communication lines open.
Speak to other parents in the neighborhood who have children attending the same school. They can give you tips about things like the school environment, supplies and after-school activities. This is also a perfect opportunity for your child to meet a classmate before school starts. Knowing someone beforehand may help alleviate your child's anxiety.
If your child has had supports in previous schools, this would not be a good time to discontinue these supports. Be sure the school has all the needed paperwork to continue your child’s supports, and if evaluations need updating, it is a good idea to do that prior to leaving the old school with personnel who are familiar with your child’s needs. If your child is on medication, make sure you get a supply to last until you can get new providers in place.
Get your Child Connected
Talk to your child about his or her concerns as the child enters this new environment. You can visit the school’s web site; getting a sense of the layout and entrance points is often reassuring. Do a practice run to determine how your child will get to and from school or where you will pick up your child.
If you are in town prior to the beginning of the year, picking a few local activities for your child can be a good way to meet peers. Activities can range from a local dance or karate studio to a church, temple, or mosque. These activities allow parents to model meeting new people and coach their child in the social skills required when doing so.
Don't Minimize Their Feelings
Moving to a new school is a big transition that can be exciting but also challenging for a child. It is important that you validate your child's concerns and anxieties if he or she has any. Do not minimize your child’s feelings. It may take weeks or even months for your child to feel comfortable and adjusted. Let your child know it is okay to feel upset. Having a strong routine at home despite the change is important and is often soothing to children. Resist the temptation to try to make the change easier by letting your children stay up later or eat differently, or by loosening your usual rules. Bedtime is an excellent time to review the day and plan for the next day.
It can also be helpful to facilitate staying in contact with old friends and to remind your child of other successful transitions in his life up to this point.
Once your child is in her new school, set up regular times to check in with your school contact person about your child’s adjustment. It is important to keep informed for many reasons, but mostly to ensure that your child’s adjustment is progressing normally.
Be Alert for Serious Difficulties
Signs that the adjustment isn’t progressing can include excessive illness on school days, actively avoiding any discussion of school, withdrawal from the family, trouble sleeping, or bedwetting. If any of these issues arises, make an appointment with the school team to pinpoint the problem. If problems persist and your child's teacher shares your concerns, you may wish to see if your child can talk to a school counselor or other professional regarding these issues. You may also wish to seek out a local therapist for your child to talk with.
Remember, each child is different and some are going to have more difficulty adjusting to new situations than others. Be patient and supportive.