5 things parents can do to make school transitions easier

Whether it’s your child’s first term of preschool or a transition from primary school to secondary school, starting out at a new school can be an understandably tense time for a child.

Of course, transitions like these are central to a child’s development, and research shows that the way transitions in early childhood are handled can have an impact on a child’s ability to cope with change, both in the short and long-term.

With this in mind, it’s important to ensure that kids know what to expect, feel well-prepared and are given plenty of support throughout the process.

Although some kids will inevitably be more vocal about their concerns than others, you can be sure that all of them feel some level of anxiety about changing schools. Some of the things they worry about, according to a survey of secondary schools in the United Kingdom, include homework demands, getting lost, being bullied, getting detention and losing old friends.

Fortunately, psychologists say there are things parents can do to help kids prepare ahead of time and support them during the transition. Here are five things you can do as a parent to facilitate a smooth school transition.

Three school kids in uniform running towards the camera.

Image: Margaret Burin, ABC News

1. Speak positively about the change

Kids tend to pick up on their parents’ attitude towards a situation, so if your child senses that you’re feeling anxious about the school transition, they may begin to mirror those emotions. So even if you don’t think your child is listening, you should always try to discuss the changes in a positive way.

When you talk about the school transition, whether it’s with your child directly or with friends and family, try to speak enthusiastically and focus on the positives, such as the interesting things they will learn, the new friends they will make and the new routines they’ll establish.

2. Acknowledge and discuss your child’s concerns

If your child has questions or concerns, rather than casually brushing them off with a “Don’t worry, it’ll be fine,” it’s important to acknowledge their concerns. Once you know what your child is feeling most anxious about, you can spend some time going over the details, whether that means discussing how they’ll get to and from school or explaining what their new schedule will be like.

You can also look for storybooks that deal with the topic of starting preschool or changing schools, as reading together can be a great way to encourage your child to open up about his or her concerns. Some examples of books that deal with school and change include Ming Goes To School by Deirdre Sullivan, Second Grade Holdout by Audrey Vernick, The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn and these great Australian books.

Two young school girls in uniform looking a little concerned.

It's important to acknowledge your child's concerns. (Image: First Day, ABC ME)

3. Involve your child as much as possible

Actively involving your child in the preparations for starting or changing schools will help them feel as though they have some say in the matter, and it can also help build anticipation. For example, if you need to choose between a few different schools, you could narrow down the best ones and then discuss the options with your child to see whether they have any preference.

Other ways to involve them in the transition process include shopping for new school supplies or clothes together, planning out their new route to school and having them make a list of the things they are looking forward to – as well as any questions or concerns they may have.

4. Pay a visit to the new school beforehand

We tend to fear what we don’t know, which is why visiting the new school in advance is a great way to help your child feel calmer about the transition.

Research from UCL also shows that a successful school transition involves being behaviourally and academically involved in school, and feeling a sense of belonging. Visiting the school in advance is one way to pave the way for this, as your child will have a chance to get to know school’s layout, see what extracurricular activities they might like to participate in and meet some of their teachers.

5. Help your child stay in touch with old friends

Losing friendships is a valid concern for children who are moving from one school to another. Research shows that preschool friendships are important for the development of social and emotional skills, and that they can increase feelings of belonging while decreasing stress.

So if your child had a close friend or group of friends in their last school, think of some ways to help them keep in touch after they move on. For example, you could organise play dates or even look for after-school activities, such as sports or dance, which they could join together.

You can also discuss the fact that they will make new friends, but that this doesn’t mean they will have to choose between their old friends and their new friends. Of course, it’s natural for some friendships to fizzle out over time, but in the early stages of a school transition, it’s important to reassure your child that changing schools doesn’t have to mean losing a good friend.

About the Author

Marianne Stenger is a writer with Open Colleges, one of Australia's online education providers.

This article was republished with permission from ABC Education. Read the original article.

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