By Marcia Hall
Transitioning into a new situation can be difficult for any child, but it can especially be hard for a child who is highly sensitive. Trying to transition your young child into a new school can be a particularly challenging event. Whether you’re moving and your child can no longer attend his old school, you’ve decided his current school isn’t a good fit or he’s attending school for the first time, there are several ways you can ease the stress he feels in the situation.
Give him plenty of warning. Parents often wait to tell their children about upcoming changes until every detail is worked out and settled. This can be a mistake when it comes to moving your child to a new school. Telling him when the change is still a just a possibility can help him become a part of the process. He may not have a choice whether he wants to move or stay where he is, but if he is in on the idea from the beginning there is a good chance he will warm up to the idea much more quickly.
Don’t cut ties with old friends. Though it may not be possible for your child to continue having a strong friendship with the kids at his old school, cutting the relationship immediately will be very painful for him. Instead, hold onto those relationships as long as possible. Getting the friend’s phone number and address in order to call and send letters can help. Have your child give out a little handmade card to each child he wants to stay connected with. You can put your phone number on it so that your child’s friend can call him too. If both parties have the technology, using Facetime or Skype can be a really fun way for children to stay connected. Allowing your child to actually see or talk to his old friends can help with the transition.
Visit the new school with him before the move. In order to make your child as much a part of the process as possible it is best to take him to the new school a few times before he begins school there. Often, parents scout out potential new schools on their own, but if you are able to bring your child along to meet the principal and some of the teachers it can help ease the transition.
Be expecting some emotional sadness at the loss of close friends and teachers. It is important to be extra sensitive to the emotions your child will be feeling as he starts a new school, and to understand that those nervous emotions will surface in many different ways. Some of these behaviors may surprise you. Sleep patterns may change, and a normally good sleeper may start waking early or have trouble sleeping at night. Your child may change his eating habits, too. A child that once was an adventurous eater may suddenly want to only eat a few of his favorite foods. Potty training may regress, and you may find that there are suddenly more day and nighttime accidents. Control behaviors may develop, like thumb sucking, nail biting, hair twirling or itching. You will likely find that your child will test limits and boundaries that he has not tested in quite some time. These behaviors are not a sign that your child is bad, but that he is stressed.
Work to spend extra time with your child. Instead of focusing on the new or altered behaviors your child has developed in his stress, validate the concerns you suspect he has. Let him know that it is OK for him to be nervous about the many new things he is going to experience at his new school. Gently remind him that he will meet new friends, but allow him to be sad for the friends that he will not be able to see as often too. Avoid pushing him to “be OK” with the transition if he really is not happy about it, and instead tell him that it is OK to not like the situation. Let him know that you are available if he needs to sit and be sad with someone.
Get him involved in social gatherings or sports as soon as you can. In order to help him move beyond his sadness and see that his new school and new friends will be pretty great too, get him involved in something that he likes as soon as you can. It is often best to have him try something new right away that he did not do at his old school. Sometimes the comparison of the old and new can trigger frustration. Even if the new is better, it is not what he is used to and he may not like it right away. You never want to over-schedule him, but getting him involved can help him meet people and discover that life at the new school will not be so bad.
Even children that seem to thrive in transition may have underlying concerns. Don’t be so sure that the child who seems to have no issues in new and unfamiliar situations will be truly OK with a new school environment. Often, children who seem to have quickly transitioned can develop issues a few weeks or months into the new school. As a parent, it is important for you to be alert to any signs of trouble, even several months into a transition.
All children transition to new things at a different pace. Spending quality time with your child is never more important than it is during times of transition. As you spend time with your child you will learn his worries, which can help you work with him to move beyond them and to develop a love for his new school.