For kids of all ages, transitioning to a new school can be difficult. Whether it is your child’s first day of high school or you’re moving to a new school district, starting a new school can affect your child’s academic performance, social development, and mental state. But there are things you can do before and during your child’s switch to a new school to help them feel and become comfortable in an unfamiliar environment.
Although moving to a new school might feel like a disaster to your tw/een, starting at a new school can be a positive experience for them. However, that does not mean they will not struggle to adjust. Switching peer groups, adjusting to a new academic schedule, and leaving behind old friends can be hard for adolescents. And it is not just about social expectations - a new school can also cause challenges in academic and extracurricular areas. While many tw/eens thrive in a fresh start, immediately jumping into activities and making friends, others will not immediately succeed. Your tw/een may feel lost for a bit, both academically and socially.
Use these strategies to help your tw/een adjust:
Keeping a positive attitude. The adjustment period begins before your tw/een steps foot into their new school. Most likely, they will have a dismal outlook from the start, so the responsibility rests on you to talk up the new city (if moving) and the new school. Point out new opportunities that will be available to them, whether it is a great theatre program or the opportunity to take advanced-level science courses. If you are not thrilled about the move either, it’s okay to share that you have concerns, too. Make it clear to your tw/een that you are going to choose to look on the bright side and show them that you’re determined to make the best of the situation. If you have confidence that you can make it in a new city or succeed at a new job, your tw/een will feel more confident about their ability to succeed in a new school, too.
Listening to your tw/een’s concerns. Acknowledge that change can be hard. You need to validate their feelings by saying you know it will be hard for them to leave their current school and friends. Avoid minimizing your tw/een’s distress by saying things like, “oh, you’ll make new friends right away so don’t worry about it” or, “It’s not a big deal. I changed schools all the time when I was a kid.” Instead, say things to your tw/een like, “I know you love being in the band here and being in the band at your next school won’t be the same” or, “I understand you’re worried about being able to stay in touch with your band friends from home.”
Your tw/een might not express their feelings with words, but you might see some changes in their behavior that indicate they’re stressed out about the move. They may lash out in anger, but that could be a cover for how they are really feeling. Keep asking them questions about their biggest concerns. Are they worried about new teachers? Do they doubt their ability to make the basketball team? It could be something small like using a locker for the first time if their previous school did not have them. Offer a balanced outlook by acknowledging the challenges of moving, but also recognizing that a new school may offer exciting new opportunities.
Talking about the reasons for moving. Be honest and upfront with your tw/een about why you’re moving. If you’re relocating for a better career opportunity, moving so you can be closer to family, or you need to find a new house because you can’t afford to stay where you are, talk about it with your tw/een. Discuss the values that went into your decision. Make sure they know you aren’t moving to make their life miserable, and they aren’t switching schools because you don’t care about their feelings. Explain that you do care about their feelings but ultimately, it’s up to you to make the best choice for the family. Even if they aren’t on board with the decision, you’re going to move. Show your tw/een that you have confidence that everyone in the family can adjust to the new circumstances and with hard work and a good attitude, you can all create a happy life in a new home or in a new city.
Learning about the new school together. Often, anxiety stems from not knowing what to expect. If your tw/een can gain a clear understanding of what their new school is going to be like, they may have a more positive attitude about making the move. Conduct as much research as possible about the new school before they start attending. Get them involved in finding out about the size of the school, types of classes offered, and extracurriculars offered. Most schools have websites that offer a wealth of information. Talking to a guidance counsellor or coach ahead of time can also be helpful. Arrange for your tw/een to have a tour of the school. If possible, help them meet some students from the new school before their first day. Seeing a familiar face or two when they’re ‘the new kid’ can go a long way to helping them settle in.
Encouraging a fresh start. If your tw/een attended the same elementary and middle school, their personality, activities, etc. are ingrained in the brains of their peers. Once you’ve been pegged as a cheerleader or the guy who is bad at math, it’s hard to break out of that rut when you’re surrounded by the peers who watched you grow up. Remind your tw/een that at the new school, no one has any preconceived notions of who they are. Therefore, if they want to change up their activities, style, or any other facet of their being, they can do it now without any questions. Explain that a fresh start can help them become an even better version of themself. They can create positive change for their life and surround themself with the type of friends they want to have now that they’re entering a new phase of life.
Facilitate making new friends. It can be hard to make new friends in high school, especially if you’re moving in the middle of the school year. It can be especially difficult if your tw/een tends to be shy. Help your tw/een create a plan for meeting new people and making friends. Joining a club or playing a sport can be a great way for them to socialize. Talk to them about what types of extracurricular activities they’re interested in joining. Then, talk to the school about how to make that happen if the school year is underway.
Encourage maintaining old friendships. The digital age makes it easy for your tw/een to stay in touch with old friends. If you’re moving across the country, social media allows your teen to chat with their old pals regularly. If your tw/een switched schools in the same area, encourage them to invite over both old and new friends and make your home a space where your tw/een can easily entertain their friends. Talk about introducing their friends to one another and make it clear to your tw/een that they don’t have to pick between friends at their old school and friends at their new school. Sometimes, tw/eens feel disloyal if they make new friends or worry that their old friends will forget about them if they don’t stay in constant contact. Talk openly about your tw/een’s concerns and discuss strategies for maintaining a healthy social life.
Watching out for academic problems. High school can be academically challenging enough, but when your teen switches schools midway through their academic career, there are a lot of adjustments to be made. Perhaps Spanish II in this school is more like Spanish III in the previous school, and your teen can’t keep up with the teacher. Or maybe they never learned algebra the way the new school teaches it. Even differences in scheduling (such as block scheduling versus traditional) can pose difficulties. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your teen’s teachers to ask how they’re doing in class and how you can help make the academic adjustment easier for your teen.
Letting the move be the excuse. Your tw/een may be tempted to say the move has caused their plummeting marks or poor behavior. Don’t let the transition be an excuse. Life is full of transitions. Someday, they will likely need to adjust to a new job, a new home, a new boss, and living with a partner. So, changing schools can be a good practice for embracing change. Let go of the guilt you carry for uprooting your tw/een. You wouldn’t have made the switch if it wasn’t in the best interest of your family, and harboring guilt keeps the family from moving forward.
Seeking help, if necessary. If your tw/een is having a tough time adjusting to a new school, ask for professional support. If they aren’t making friends or are struggling academically, they may be at a higher risk of mental health issues or substance abuse issues. Talk to your physician to request a referral to a therapist or speak to the school’s guidance counsellor. The school may be able to offer services that can help.
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