Helping Your Child Adjust to a New School

Last year, my family made the difficult choice to change elementary schools. We did so to take advantage of an Accelerated Studies program for my oldest daughter, who was going into the 5th grade. This year, for the second year in a row, she will again be attending a new school – a middle school geared toward accelerated studies particularly in science and math.

It is difficult changing schools. Way back when, I did so in the 6th grade as well when my family moved from New York to North Carolina. I remember the nerves quite well. For any parents facing this situation this coming school year, school professionals and psychologists offers some fabulous tips:

1. Remember that you are a team. If you are moving, obviously your child does not really have much of a choice. However, keep them involved in the process, such as visiting the new area and the new school prior to moving. If you are changing schools by choice, be sure that you involve your child in that decision as well. If your child is advancing to middle school or high school, allow him or her to help select electives so that they will be excited about the coming year.

2. Stay Positive. Your child’s reaction to his or her new school will depend a lot on how you present the opportunities and challenges. If you are negative, they will be as well. Focus on the positive aspects, such as classes or clubs of interest that the other school couldn’t offer. Offer solutions for challenges they may face – how to make new friends, how to be organized for upper level schooling.

3. Encourage School Involvement. My daughter jumped right in with both feet last year. She joined the Jr. Beta Club, the Safety Patrol, the Robotics team. She said she wanted to meet as many people as she could and be a part of her new school as much as possible. Obviously, over-committing to too many projects is overwhelming, but one or two activities of interest will make a new school a fun place to be. Parents of younger children – you should also become involved with the school. Volunteering not only helps out a school in need, but young children love seeing their parents chip in during the day.

4. Take a Trial Run. Take advantage of the school open house/meet the teachers activities before school starts. Introduce yourself and your child to his or her new teacher(s), look for the classroom and have your child walk out their schedule before the hustle and bustle of school starts. They will be much more confident that first day, when everything will seem so chaotic.

5. The Week Before School Starts: Be sure to begin adjusting your daily routine to how it will be once school begins. Move bedtime back to ensure your child gets enough sleep. Adjust meal times so that your child can get used to lunch/snack and not become overwhelmingly hungry in the middle of a class. Find a place in your home that will be “homework central” and get it ready for the tons of forms that will come home the first week of school.

6. During the School Year: Talk to your child often about how things are going at school. Remember that the first couple of weeks can be overwhelming, no matter how well you plan. . “I would expect most children to have a hard first six weeks or so, although some who adapt and make friends easily may adjust much more quickly,” says Jennifer Shewmaker, Ph.D, Director of School Psychology Training at Abilene Christian University. “(However) If a child was still really struggling, crying and complaining of lack of friends, after six months, that might cause me concern.”

Other signs that your child may be having trouble adjusting to the new school year:
o Sleeping habits have changed drastically
o Non-compliance regarding completing school assignments
o Complaining of illnesses like headaches and/or stomachaches
o Aggression towards self and/or others
o Increased or decreased eating habits
o Decreased or lack of social interactions

Stay in contact with your child’s teachers, if possible, so they know that you are an available parent who will work in cooperation with the school to help your child succeed.

Center for School Mental Health, in collaboration with the Maryland School Mental Health Alliance
Partners for Student Success, Special School District of St. Louis County


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