Help Your Child Adjust to a New School
When Mary Rice's husband walked through the door, she knew something was wrong. "He told me his job was moved to Georgia, and we could either go with the job or lose the job," she says. "We both cried for hours."
The Rices had built their entire life around a small community in Pennsylvania, but corporate downsizing was taking its toll on the area and many families were being forced to relocate.
"We knew the best move for our future was to move," says Rice, who now lives in Atlanta, Ga. "But it wasn't so easy to convince the kids."
At 8 and 11 years old, the Rice children were settled into their schools and had strong circles of friends. Their reaction is echoed by millions of children who are forced to relocate and begin life in a new city and a new school. It's bound to be a stressful experience, but parents can help ease the new school blues.
First Things First
Involve your children as much as possible in the move and the options surrounding it. "We didn't have a choice of whether or not we had to move, but we did have a choice about the house and the neighborhood and even the schools," says Janice Long, of Mequon, Wis. "Those became the kids' pet projects."
While it was a logistical hassle, the Longs felt it was important enough to bring their children on every trip they made to Wisconsin. "It really would have been easier if my husband and I could have flown up alone, but the kids ended up seeing something special in a house my husband and I didn't really like," Long says. "Now, we can't imagine living anywhere else."
Most realty offices have personnel designated as "Relocation Specialists." These people are schooled in the intricate process of moving from one city to another. Most have considerable information about neighborhoods and schools. They may even be able to send you an informational package to get the ball rolling.
Now That You Know
Once you've ironed out where to live and which school to attend, it's time to prepare your child. "Some kids come to a new school and fit in with no problem," says Lori Linden, a school counselor for the Millcreek Township School District in Erie, Pa. "Then, you have the kids who have that 'shy' nature or maybe even a 'tough guy' exterior, who have problems fitting in due to that personality style. Parents just need to pay attention to their child's personality and what they are like."
If your child has had problems making or keeping friends in the past, or if your child takes a considerable amount of time to warm up to people, there are things you can do to help. "If they know that their child is shy and has difficulty interacting, then they may want to take some extra steps – like role-playing situations – where the child would introduce themselves to peers or ask to play with peers," says Linden. "Don't make the role play perfect, either. It's good to help your child process how they would handle a tough situation, so they get that practice beforehand. Kids can be mean; it's hard to fit into a group when you're new, so the more skills they have going in, the better."
Keep the lines of communication open. Even if your child is an extrovert, he or she still might have reservations about this move. Ask if they are bothered. Ask if you can help. Let them know you will do whatever it takes to make them comfortable in their new school.
Linden suggests that parents and children take a school tour before the start of classes. This way, the child can see the classrooms and maybe even meet their teacher. The key to good preparation is to eliminate or reduce the surprises.
The School's Turn
Your help isn't the only assistance that your child can expect. More than likely, the school will work with you to ensure a smooth transition. "I usually meet with new kids after a week or so and see how they're doing," Linden says. "That way, they know what they have to deal with and who they are dealing with, if there are any problems."
Despite your best intentions to eliminate the surprises, you can't know what your child's classmates are like until he or she begins classes. This is where the school can help. Linden points out that some kids develop a hard exterior in order to prevent others from being mean to them. "This kind of kid will probably be identified early on by the teacher, and hopefully, the teacher or counselor would be able to intervene before it gets out of hand," she says. "Parents just need to give their kids those extra tools, like having respect and being kind."
"We figured Julia was doing fine," says Kathy Thompson of Lansing, Mich. "She seemed to have adjusted well. But it was odd that she never called friends and that friends never called her. We didn't realize she was being cordial but not really getting to know anyone. That changed when I suggested she join the ski club."
If you're not in school with your child and you can't meet classmates ahead of time, how do you help friendships develop? Suggest an activity. "Try to have the parents involve their children in extracurricular activities – any sports, scouts, music, etc.," Linden says. "Anything is better than nothing. Those groups typically foster good friendships."
The school also can be instrumental in helping your special needs child get settled. "If a child has special needs, whether they are academic, physical or social-emotional, let the school know in advance so they can offer their support," Linden says. "Most districts have support teams to help students."
Starting over in a new school is not just your child's problem; it can become everyone's problem if behavior issues result from unhappiness. Even though relocation is a busy time for parents, you have the knowledge to empower your child, if you just take the extra time.