Making the Change
Making the jump from elementary to middle school, middle to high school, or even a new school in a new town all bring some level of stress.
September always brings a host of fears to children when school begins again. Regardless of their previous school experience, all children have some questions that arise.
Will I like my teacher?
Will my friends be in my classroom?
Will I have a lot of homework?
How do I get my lunch?
How do I find my classroom on the first day?
These concerns are all expected and normal for any student entering the next year of school. However, for children making the change to a new school building there are often many more questions that come up. Making the jump from elementary to middle school, middle to high school, or even a new school in a new town all bring some level of stress.
By taking the time at the beginning of the school year to answer your child's most pressing problems, they will be free to focus more on academics than on social concerns.
First, request a building tour before the school year begins. If your child is transitioning into a new school within their district, they may have already taken a tour as part of the previous year's curriculum. However, if you are new to the area, contact your local district to see if they have new student orientation programs that your child could participate in. Some schools also offer tours for parents, so that everyone is familiar with the school setting.
If your child still has concerns about their new school, check the internet for the school's web site. Most schools now offer information about their school Online, so that everyone has access to important information. Some schools will post their hours, teacher names or pictures, and other daily information there. Also, some districts offer their handbooks Online, allowing you to preview homework policies, dress codes, and other important information. Not Online? Call the school and request a copy of their student handbook by mail. Most schools will have one available for you.
In some cases, especially if your child has anxiety or behavioral concerns, you may be able to schedule a pre-conference with the school for your child. The principal, guidance counselor, or other staff may have some time to make an appointment with you to help your child allay their fears. When you call, be sure to explain the reason for your request. You should contact the school in advance of your visit, as summer hours are often very different from regular school hours, and staff may not be available without notice. Unless you have been able to make and appointment, try not to go into the school on the day before classes begin, as this is often a very busy day with meetings and other activities scheduled for staff; they may not be able to meet with you then.
It can be difficult to manage students who are nervous for their first few days. Don't be surprised if random belly-aches, headaches, or other maladies show up. Expect these, and be firm about attending school. Though it is difficult for any parent to see their child in an uncomfortable situation, remember that the sooner they are independent in school the sooner they will be successful. Try to avoid the temptation of over-protecting your child by walking them to class, or being overly demonstrative when leaving for school. Too often these well-intentioned practices lead to longer adjustment times for students, instead of moving them toward independence.
School's start is often a stressful time for kids, even if they are well prepared. However, within a few days they often learn all they need to know and will settle in quite comfortably. Remember, your child's school is staffed with caring, dedicated professionals who all want what's best for your child. By working with them, you will help your child have a great school year.
Still concerned? Symptoms getting worse instead of better? Most schools have guidance or adjustment counselors who are available to work with students who are having difficulty adjusting to their new environment. If you are concerned about your child's transition, contact the school and ask if they have any programs or staff available to speak with about helping your child. Sometimes it only takes a few sessions to get everyone back on track.
More Child Education Resources:
US Dept. of Education
Helping Your Child Learn Math