The experience of starting a new school can spark a whole host of feelings for children. For some the prospect of change leads to excitement and curiosity, for others it can mean worry and fear. A new school brings with it new relationships, new structures, routines and responsibilities. For all children this change takes time and adjustment. Whether your child is starting school for the very first time or transitioning into a new school, there are a number of ways, as a parent, you can help to prepare and support them in this time. Here's our top tips to consider, as you seek to care for your child through this change:
1. Prepare your child's expectations for their move to their new school
The first way you can help your child is to manage their expectations. Often one of the biggest difficulties with change is that our expectations don’t match the real experience. Take the time to speak to your child about what they think the new school will be like. If some of their expectations are misguided this gives you the opportunity to reassure them and inform them of what they can actually expect. It could be helpful to read through the school’s prospectus with them so they have a better understanding of what their new school will be like. Try and encourage them in the positive things they will be able to do and reassure them of your support with the things they are nervous of.
2. Help your child feel prepared for their move to their new school
Another way you can support your child in this transition is in the preparation. This could be taking the time to understand the school better, going through what your child needs each day, or even practicing the route to and from school. Preparation will look different depending on if your child is starting primary school or secondary but either way you can help them by being familiar with these things for yourself. Help to include your child in any preparation you need to do whether that’s getting lunch ready or creating a timetable for them. This can continue to be a weekly habit you get into where they can be involved in things such as getting their bag ready for school each day. This will also help to grow their organisational skills and encourage them to take responsibility for themselves and their belongings.
3. Help your child establish a routine for their new school
Established routines are important for all children, not just those starting a new school. Children thrive when they have balance in their life and when they consistently know what to expect. If you can help your child to form good habits and routines as they begin at their new school this can make the adjustment easier for them. Some of the things that contribute to a balanced week are: consistent bedtimes and bedtime routines, time for healthy meals, physical exercise and leisure, dedicated time for homework as well as periods of rest and relaxation. What this looks like will vary depending on your child and your family life, but establishing a routine that works well for them will set them up for the rest of their school years.
4. Help your child to develop healthy relationships at their new school
Building and maintaining relationships can be a big part of your child’s school experience. It can also be something that many children worry about or find difficult. If this is something your child is nervous about, there are ways you can help them. Try to encourage them to think about what makes a good friend, and how you get to know someone new. For example, what does it look like to introduce yourself to someone new? What questions would you ask them to get to know them better? How can you find points of interest and connection? Reassure them that they don’t need to have everything in common with someone in order to be their friend. It could also be helpful to remind them that lots of children are in the same situation as them and so might be feeling similar. As they begin to settle into school, you could try to encourage meet ups with some of their new friends at the weekends or in school holidays. If your child is participating in extracurricular activities they may also find they are able to connect with more likeminded people too.
5. Make connections in your child's new school
Another area of support you can show your child as they start their new school is to make connections with the school. As a parent there are lots of ways you can develop this connection yourself, for example getting involved with events put on by the school for parents, or joining parent- teacher associations. This might also look like getting to know your child’s teachers or key members of staff. This can take some time, but getting to know the school your child is a part of will help them to feel more comfortable too. You can also encourage your child to make connections with the school for themselves for example by joining after school clubs or getting to know their teachers better. This kind of connection helps to bring comfort and ease in new and unfamiliar situations.
6. Encourage open communication about their new school
In all of these different areas, an underlying way you can support your child is through communication. In your communication with them, try to be clear and honest with them. Make sure they understand what is expected of them and aren’t left unsure. Encourage them that you love and care for them and so are always there to talk to if they’d like to. Having an open dialogue with your child means they can come to you with questions or concerns as well as sharing things that are important to them if they want to. Ask them open questions about school and how they’re feeling. It may be that they don’t give long responses but by simply asking you are showing them you care and are ready to listen if and when they have something to say. If your child is struggling, it may be that they would find it easier to speak to another family member or friend.
Starting at a new school is an exciting yet challenging time for young people. It can take time for your child to adjust to this new change and all that comes with it. Try to be patient with them and with yourself as you navigate this new chapter in their lives. If they seem to be struggling more than they can cope or you feel they would benefit from some extra support, at Mable we would love to be able to help.
If you know a child who could benefit from counselling, why not get in touch with a member of our counselling team.