How to Ensure a Smooth Transition
By E. Marcel Pourtout and Michelle Bourg
As the old saying goes, “Nothing is constant except change.” All change requires some adjustment, and a move is right up at the top of the list. This can be difficult for adults, let alone for children, who thrive on routine and have fewer coping skills.
From preschool to college, starting or changing schools is a dramatic—potentially traumatic—milestone. School is where children establish an identity and relationships outside the family; changing schools means establishing friendships all over again. When you combine this with a move, the stress levels can increase exponentially.
However, there are simple strategies you can follow to ease your family’s transition to both a new home and a new school.
One of the most important things you can do to help your children—and yourself—negotiate any life change is to maintain a calm presence. Children pick up on your feelings, so it’s important to communicate a positive attitude. If you’re anxious, young children especially may interpret this to mean that change is bad. Don’t overhype it, but convey the feeling that this is an adventure and your enthusiasm will be infectious.
A good way to help kids feel positive about the situation is to give them a voice in decisions whenever appropriate. Whether it’s about choosing a school or selecting the day’s outfit, asking their opinion on things that affect them directly lets them feel that they’re part of the process and not just pawns in the game.
School changes during middle or high school are times when this presence is especially needed, but it’s tricky to pull off unobtrusively. The situation is particularly fraught: bigger schools, new classmates, shifting social expectations and dating dynamics can make kids and parents feel like they’re on a new planet. There’s also increased pressure to excel academically, with students getting ready to make decisions about their futures and contending with college admissions.
Ironically, this is also the age at which your child is less likely to admit vulnerability or to confide in you. It’s crucial to “hold on loosely” while watching for warning signs such as changes in behavior, eating habits or grades before major problems develop.
Lean on Your Child’s New School
Janie Beck, chief marketing officer at The Lovett School in Atlanta, oversees both admissions and communications. The school welcomes new students in a variety of ways, depending on the grade level, and Beck says both children and their parents should jump right into their new school to make what can be a stressful situation for both go smoother.
“One of the pieces of advice I give parents is for their kids to plan on getting involved in the first semester by picking up a new sport or joining a new club or joining a play,” she says, adding service opportunities is another good way to meet new people. “Being new is hard for a lot of folks, but I often find that for kids that have a sense of their interests or things they want to explore further, that’s such a natural way to make connections.”
Beck also recommends students not worry so much about “getting settled immediately,” adding that between homeroom and other classes, they’ll make connections “organically.”
“I think another great piece of advice is for parents to get involved, whether it’s joining the PTA or volunteering for interests they may have,” she says.
Visiting the School
Regardless of whether your child will be attending an independent or public school, you’ll want to pay a visit to the
campus and attend an orientation to help your child get acclimated.
“Anxious kids really need orientation to the school,” says Dr. John Lochridge, a child, adult and family psychiatrist. “They may have difficulties with things like the lockers, cafeteria and playground. The parents and students should do a full tour of everything and discuss things such as seating with the teachers.”
This applies even to middle and high school students who move to different classrooms throughout the day, Lochridge says.
Preparation is also the key to making this transition a smooth one. Particularly if you’re changing school systems or transferring to a private school, the curriculum and culture are likely to be slightly different. Find out what’s been covered, and if there are areas that your child is unfamiliar with, arrange for extra study or tutoring so he or she won’t be behind. The best source of inside information is someone who’s been there, so reach out to other parents. They’ll have useful insights to share, and talking about kids and schools is a surefire icebreaker when you’re new in the neighborhood.
While your child is adjusting to changes at school, try to maintain a home routine as similar as possible to the one you’re used to. When other areas of life are in flux, a familiar routine is reassuring for everyone and shifts the focus to the things that need to be relearned. Maintaining a set bedtime is especially important; tired kids (and adults) have a harder time dealing with stress.
Work with Your Child
Lochridge also recommends having a talk with your child to address any concerns they might have.
“The children may have additional questions after orientation, so it’s important to go over every aspect of it,” he says. “Try to get their feelings about it and let them lead the conversation.”
After spending the previous months in the summer with a less-structured schedule, they may take some time to adjust.
“They’re used to a summertime schedule, which may mean waking up later in the morning,” says Lochridge. “I believe in the parents sitting down with their children and setting up a structured situation about a week in advance of the school year. You want the children waking up early and starting a morning routine—having breakfast, getting dressed and going someplace.”
Have a regular conversation with your child as the school year approaches and as it begins. And check in with their teachers as well. Showing interest and maintaining open communication will have you well on the way to helping them adapt to their new surroundings.
Where to Start
There are a few steps parents must go through to make sure their children are properly enrolled at their new school.
- First, if your child is attending a public school, be sure they’re properly enrolled with the right school by visiting the Georgia Department of Education (GDOE) website (gadoe.org) and even your county or city school system’s website to get more info.
- Second, parents interested in homeschooling may submit a declaration of intent form online through the GDOE.
- Third, make sure your child has had his or her most recent eye, ear and dental exams, and obtain a certificate of immunization. The state law also requires all students, including foreign exchange students, to be immunized with the required vaccines at the time of their first entry in school. Forms can be found on the GDOE website.
- Fourth, You’ll also be required to provide proof of birth for your child, like an original or state-certified birth certificate. Your school or school system may accept other items. Check your school or school system’s website for details. Your child’s proper photo identification may also be required.