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Moving can be stressful for children. Packing up and heading to a new town, losing friends, and having to adjust to a different routine and a new school can be challenging. This stress can be compounded when the move happens to be during the middle of a school year.
The good news though, is that children are also tremendously resilient. With care, patience, and lots of understanding, you can help your child to navigate those first few challenging weeks as they settle into a new routine. Keep in mind that for any child, first-day jitters are perfectly normal, and most children will soon start to warm to their new school. Still, there’s a lot that parents and guardians can do to help make the process easier, and eliminate some of that last-minute apprehension and tears.
We’ve spoken with a handful of education professionals and teachers across the United States who work with elementary-aged school children, to gain some insight on helping children to navigate an often difficult transition. We asked them eight specific questions on what transitioning into a new school normally looks like during the early years and asked for advice on helping children to adjust to a new school after a move.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the questions that we asked and advice from the experts. See how you can help your child to have a smoother time transitioning into their new school, no matter what time of year your move takes place.
Meet The Experts
- Iciar Maiz – Teacher at Southside Preparatory Academy in Miami, Florida
- Laura R. – 2nd Grade Teacher at Elon Park Elementary School in Charlotte, North Carolina
- Laura Coffey – Kindergarten Instructional Coach at Ravenscroft School in Raleigh, North Carolina
- Layla Tanik – Kindergarten Instructor at Ravenscroft School in Raleigh, North Carolina
- Margo Powell – Teacher at Wake County Public School Systems in North Carolina
- Stefanie Dell – Teacher at Cougar Run Elementary School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado
Answers From The Experts
1. At which age do children (grades K-5) tend to have the hardest time adjusting to a new school?
First up, the bad news –change can be hard for kids of any age. The good news though, is that children –especially younger children, tend to be tremendously resilient, as long as they have support.
“I have always been in K-5 teaching 1st and 2nd grade. I have yet to see a new student have a hard time adjusting,” shares Laura R., a second-grade teacher at Elon Park Elementary. “And I have had new students from El Salvador that did not know any English!”
Still, for some children, change is easier than for others. It depends largely on the child’s personality and how supportive their family is.
“I think any transition can be hard for kids to adjust,” shares Stefanie Dell, a K-5 teacher at Cougar Run Elementary. “It can depend on other factors such as family support and or involvement in other activities, clubs, sports etc. outside of school.”
Parents who are looking to help their child fit in will want to consider getting them involved with a range of healthy, and fun, activities. Sports and other activities can help to relieve stress, build confidence, and help them to have an easier time with the transition. New activities also give them something to look forward to and often can lead to new friendships being formed as well.
2. At which age do children (grades K-5) tend to have the easiest time adjusting to a new school?
When’s the best time to make the transition? The younger, the better, according to the experts. But of course, any child can adjust to a new school.
“Earlier the better in my opinion,” shares Laura R. “Younger students aren’t as worried about image and popularity status.”
Being free from the constraints of peer pressure and the constant struggle to fit in, younger children tend to operate with much fewer inhibitions, something that makes it easier for them to settle in and find friends.
“PK-5th grade students will have the easiest time adjusting to a new school,” says Laura Coffey, a kindergarten instructional coach at Ravenscroft School. “It’s easier to make new friends when you’re younger.”
As Dell says, a lot depends on how much support they are getting at home, and their involvement in other activities.
In addition to getting your child involved in sports and activities, it’s also a good idea to try to help facilitate new friendships. Set up times for them to get together with other students or try to get to know some of the other parents. These experiences can help friendships to blossom, helping them to quickly warm to their new school.
3. In which ways do you typically see stress, anxiety, or grief come out of children after they’ve started at a new school?
For children, there are a whole host of potential issues that can manifest themselves as outbursts in school.
“Typically issues come more from home life,” shares Laura R., citing issues like homelessness, separations, and adoptions as situations that can plunge a young child into tremendous grief or stress. “I have seen behavior problems, lack of interest, and emotional outbursts,” she shares.
“For a young child (4-year-old to 6-year-old) stress and anxiety can manifest in “big” uncontrollable emotions,” shares Layla Tanik, kindergarten instructor and team leader at Ravenscroft School. Often, these come to the surface over issues that might be seemingly small. “Grief, stress, or anxiety can cause a lack of emotional regulation,” she continues. “Another symptom can be clinginess to the teacher or caregiver, as well as irritability and sometimes even aggression.”
“Students can become withdrawn or they can act out,” says Coffey, highlighting the range of different problems that stress and anxiety can cause.
Parents and teachers alike need to be vigilant for these signs of disruptive behavior and work to identify the catalyst behind them. Once the cause has been identified, you can work toward addressing the behavior and ensuring that they’re receiving the support that they need.
4. How can parents or guardians work with teachers and/or school facilities to help support their child?
Want to help your child thrive in their new school? Then you and the teachers need to be working together –in partnership. Make sure you’re supporting each other. You both have the same goal, after all, to see your child succeed.
What does this look like practically speaking?
First up, communication is vitally important.
“The more we work as a “team” the better we can support the student,” says Laura R. “Also honesty. Be honest about behaviors that are seen at home.”
It’s also important to be proactive in helping your child to adjust to their new surroundings.
“Guardians and school employees can work together by anticipating the needs of the child and having regular check-ins,” says Tanik. “It is a great idea to get ahead of the stress of a move by putting in place strategies for the child to use when they feel overcome with stress/anxiety.” This can be through talking, stress balls, or coping mechanisms, like breathing techniques.
“Families can partner with educators by telling them about the move and anything atypical they noticed about their child’s transition to a new location/school,” advises Coffey. “Communication is key to position any student for a successful year.”
It’s also important for parents to recognize when they might need to bring in some outside help.
“If behaviors and issues are severe seek outside counseling to keep behaviors from increasing,” mentions Laura R. “Anxiety and stress is much more prevalent at younger ages these days. The earlier we can teach coping strategies, the more successful the students will be!”
5. How should parents or guardians prepare children in advance of their first day at a new school?
For parents, visiting the school with their child beforehand can help to familiarize them with the layout. This will help them to feel more confident walking in on their first day.
“Try to request a teacher contact before coming in,” says Laura R. “Take a tour of the building so that the child is not worried about everything being new. Celebrate the change. Talk about the positives and what great things come out of each day.” She also recommends taking the time to talk through any fears or reservations that your child may have, and asking them about their fears and anxieties.
Then listen. Try to really understand them. Pay attention to the little things, the way they seem to get stressed about a certain issue or dwell on a topic. This can indicate areas where they may have heightened anxiety. Then work with them to brainstorm ways that they can work through these anxieties so that they don’t need to be fearful anymore. Help them to understand and navigate the tricky feelings that can arise with this big transition.
Tanik also recommends visiting the school or at least showing them lots of photos. Then, talk to your child. “Let them know it’s okay to feel scared –and uncomfortable doesn’t mean unsafe,” she says. “Remind them that school is a temporary place and they will always return home at the end of the day. Give them clear instructions on who is there to help them (name of their teacher as well as assistants).”
For children who may be anxious, or for parents who are looking to be proactive ahead of a big transition, it’s a good idea to try to attend as many school events as you can. Open houses, teacher meetings, sports –you name it. Getting your child involved with the school as much as possible will help them to warm up to the idea of a new place and may even help them to connect with other students. It’s also a good idea to allow your student to meet their new teacher early on to help them feel more comfortable and confident on their first day.
Finally, when the first day arrives, make drop off quick –says Tanik. “Try not to linger, a swift, non-dramatic goodbye is best.”
6. Beyond the first day of school, what challenges do children typically face in their first few months of school?
It can be difficult for any child who’s not ready to learn, Laura R. says. So it’s important for parents to be as proactive as possible when it comes to setting them up for success.
“Buy the supplies or ask the school for assistance if you are suffering a financial hardship,” she says. “Check folders and book bags to support the transition. Start off heavily supporting your child so that they feel successful and then slowly increase responsibilities and independence.”
“Learning routines and procedures, understanding rules of the classroom, making friends, and maintaining healthy friendships when problems arise,” are other common challenges that children face, says Tanik.
Likewise, having a new teacher with new routines, procedures, and expectations all requires an adjustment, shares Coffey, highlighting some areas where children often struggle as they transition into a new school, or even move up a grade. “Class dynamics (making new friends), more challenging academics, and building stamina” can also be challenging.
Becoming involved in the school as a parent is a great way to help your child adjust. While it might be a lot of work on your part, becoming involved can get you inside information on how things are running and operating and how your child is doing. Volunteering your time in your child’s classroom is another way to help ease your child into the transition. It can be comforting for younger children to know that you are around and near until they get used to the routine.
7. How does the experience of children who’ve relocated and enrolled in a new school mid-year (or any time after the school year has already started) differ from those that start brand-new on the first day?
One of the risks of moving children mid-year is that they might have a harder time fitting into the new school.
Children that move into a new school mid-year tend to be “less organized, more confused, less social,” says Iciar Maiz, a K-5 teacher at Southside.
Laura R. agrees. “They are jumping into a well-oiled machine and they don’t know how it works! On the first days/weeks of school teachers and students are all learning and adjusting together as the classroom community is being built,” she shares. “There is a lot of time spent on building a classroom community, getting to know each other, setting expectations, and determining roles. Those are days and routines that cannot be replicated when a child enters mid-year.”
Another challenge is making friendships.
“They feel as if all friends have been made,” says Margo Powell, a K-5 teacher at WCPSS.
Fortunately, though, there are ways that you can help your child to adjust, even if you’ve moved halfway through the school year.
“They are in a different situation because they are entering a space that already has established routines and relationships. It can be really hard for midyear students to feel comfortable right away,” shares Tanik.
Coffey agrees. “It takes them longer to adjust to classroom routines, and it’s more challenging to make friends (since the kids who have been together from the start have formed their friend groups already),” she says.
Still, most experts agree that each situation is different, and will depend on how well a child is equipped to navigate those changes.
Much of a child’s success is contingent on their family situation at home. This means that parents who engage with their child and are committed to their success can have a significant impact on how easily they’re able to adjust at school.
“I think it truly depends on the family situation and each student individually as well as their involvement and other activities,” says Dell.
8. What is your biggest piece of advice for parents/guardians who are currently moving or will move and enroll their child in a new school?
“As a teacher of 16 years, I promise kids are more adaptable than us adults give them credit for,” shares Laura R. “Children pick up on our worries and anxieties. Try to stay calm, positive, supportive, and communicate with your child along the way!”
“Be empathetic,” shares Powell. “Listen. Even when they are not talking.” It’s important to acknowledge their feelings.
“My biggest piece of advice would be to always validate the feelings of their child,” shares Tanik. “Whether they are scared or excited, encourage them to name their emotion and think about why they feel that way. In addition, I’d remind parents that children are incredibly resilient and even though transitions can be hard they are also wonderful learning experiences.”
Adjusting to a new school can be hard. Even with the best plans and intentions, it can sometimes be a difficult transition. This is especially true if your child is leaving behind a school full of friends that he or she was close with and starting fresh in a new place. Be empathetic to their feelings at this time and understand that this is a hard transition to make. Don’t dismiss their feelings. Instead, work to reassure them that it will get better, and make sure you help to facilitate those friendships. Even parents who are busy can linger after school for 15 minutes to play on the playground, or teach their children techniques to make friends themselves. The more support that you give your child at home, the better and more adjusted they will be able to be at school. In turn, the transition process will be far smoother and less stressful as well.
While moving to a new school is a time that’s filled with uncertainty, the key to a positive outcome is to show plenty of patience and understanding as you work with your child to help them adjust. One of the best ways that you can do this is by freeing yourself up from some of those stressful and time-consuming tasks when moving. Packing and moving is important, but it’s one of those things that can be a real source of stress, not to mention a real time drain as well.
Fortunately, this is also one task that you can outsource. One of the best ways to do this is by finding a reputable moving company that you can entrust with packing and transporting your belongings. Outsourcing tasks like moving means that you’ll be able to spend more time with your child and less time feeling stressed and encumbered by one more project.
See our round-up of the best long distance movers and find someone that you can entrust with your move today.
Have a question or comment regarding this article? Email Kara Griffin at firstname.lastname@example.org