Helping a Child Adapt to a New School

Changing schools isn't easy for children. They need a period of adaptation to feel comfortable with the new reality. Learn here how to help them.
Helping a Child Adapt to a New School

Last update: 06 June, 2020

The first day at a new school is a time that causes a lot of anxiety and fear in most children, it doesn’t matter how old they are. In fact, the adaptation period normally lasts a few months until the child feels really comfortable with their teacher and classmates.

As parents, it’s our duty to help our children overcome this anxiety. Look at the glass half full, and discover all the good aspects of this new experience. Don’t miss out on all the advice in this article.

Where do the fear and anxiety come from?

A scared boy.
Fear of the unknown is one of the causes of anxiety when going to a new school.

It doesn’t matter how old your child is, anxiety and different fears are almost certain to appear when we talk about a change of this magnitude. It’s not hard to understand what happens to kids, we just need to exercise our empathy.

A new school implies a new beginning for little ones (and not so little ones). Among the main factors that cause fear and anxiety we have:

  • The unknown: everything is new and the child doesn’t know how things will work or what they’ll find.
  • Not having friends: a new school means entering a class where everyone knows each other. The child enters a formed group where they don’t have even one friend. It’s logical that this situation would cause fear.
  • Losing friends: another common fear is thinking that they’ll lose their friends from their old school, that they’ll forget about them and never see them again.

Remember, the adaptation period varies from child to child depending on their age (little kids usually adapt much faster than older ones), and their personality (timid children normally need more time to adapt). Be patient and help your child through this tough time!

How to help your child in their new school

While it’s likely that changing to a new school will also cause you some anxiety, you should keep it under control. Don’t forget that parents are the mirror in which our children see themselves. We are their example to follow.

Let’s look at a few good tips to help your child adapt to their new school.

Before changing schools

A girl hugging mom.
Open dialogue and empathy are necessary to start new habits.
  1. Only announce the change when it’s certain: talking about possibilities with your children will only cause them stress. Tell them that they’ll be going to a new school only when you’re sure that it’s going to happen.
  2. Explain the reasons: talking with your children about the things that caused the change is the only way they’ll understand why it’s necessary. Although they’re small, they have the ability to reason. Arm yourself with patience for their questions and talk openly!
  3. Give important information: tell them when they’ll start at their new school, how their days will be organized, how the school works, and anything else you think is important to minimize your children’s anxiety.
  4. Be empathetic: it’s a difficult time for your children. Put yourself in their place and don’t lose your cool. Your children need your understanding, love, and support.
  5. Visit the school: get to know the new school before the start of classes (or the day of the move). It’s important for your kids to get an idea of the school before they jump in. Ask the school if it’s possible to visit.
  6. Take advantage of extracurricular activities: if the school offers activities outside of class hours, it can be a good idea to sign your kids up for some of them. Choose an activity they like and let them slowly get used to the new school and their new classmates. This way, by the time you make the move, they won’t feel so much like the “new kid” anymore.

The first day of class

A girl crying on the first day of school.
We should make a pleasant first day to reduce anxiety.
  1. Wake your child up lovingly: take advantage of the morning to eat breakfast with them without rushing, and try to calm their anxiety.
  2. Accompany them to the new school: it doesn’t matter how old they are, they’ll need your help to face their new teachers and classmates. Be there to support them!
  3. Listen to them: let them know that you understand their fears and insecurities.
  4. Be punctual: both when you drop them off and when you pick them up. It’s important your child arrives on time in the morning, and equally important they see you waiting for them when they leave school.
  5. If your child cries: (in the case of small kids) assure them that everything will be fine, but don’t bring them home!
  6. Pay attention to the signs: some children don’t tell you everything that happens at school, or they aren’t sure how to explain their feelings. Observe them and try to notice if they show any changes in personality or attitude, so that you know how they are dealing with the change.

During the adaptation period

Children in class.
The length of adaptation is different depending on each child’s personality and age.
  1. Don’t forget that we talked about an adaptation period: it’s impossible to predict how much time your child will need to feel comfortable in the new school. Breathe deeply and remember that every person needs a different amount of time to adapt.
  2. Never lose patience if your child says they don’t want to go to school: adaptation can be very complicated. Listen to your child and help them, don’t add more stress to their life with accusations or yelling.
  3. Get in contact with other parents: find out which kid your kid likes and talk to their parents. Maybe you could invite them to your house to play or eat, that way you’ll help your kid to break the ice.
  4. Listen more than you talk: let your children express themselves, try to understand them and don’t use clichés. Every person deals with change differently.

The process of adapting to a new school can be long and complex, depending on the characteristics of each child. Arm yourself with patience and empathy! Only then will you be able to help your children.

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