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  • The New Kid on the Block: Helping Children Adjust to a New School

  • Helping Your When the "new kid" happens to be your kid, you want to make it as easy as possible for them. Alison Miller, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist at Bradley, has recommendations for easing your child's transition to a new school.

    Get Informed

    One of the most important ways a parent can help their "new kid" is by getting connected to and informed about the new school environment. "We know that having a close and well-informed connection between home and school is very important for a child's adjustment," says Miller.

    She recommends parents make an effort to get to know their child's teacher, perhaps by volunteering in the classroom or on class trips. If your schedule does not permit this type of involvement, make an appointment to meet with the teacher before your child starts classes. Ask the teacher for recommmendations on making the transition easier, if there are any classroom rituals or if you could provide any special supplies that would make your child feel prepared and more included.

    Speak to other parents in the neighborhood who have children attending the same school. They can give you tips about things like the school environment, supplies and after-school activities. This is also a perfect opportunity for your child to meet a classmate before school starts. Knowing someone beforehand may help alleviate your child's anxiety.

    Miller explains, "when a child knows their parents are taking the time to familiarize themselves with their new school, it can go a long way in boosting their self-confidence as the new kid."

    Get your Child Connected

    Call the school and find out if there is an orientation for new students. If not, arrange for your child to get a tour of the school before classes begin. Minimizing the fear of the unknown by familiarizing your child with the layout of the school will help ease concerns. Do a practice run of how your child will get to and from school or where you will pick them up. Ask them what their concerns are and see if you can offer a solution. (For example, if they are worried they won't be able to open their locker, see if they can try it beforehand.)

    Another tip is to review social skills with your child. Miller says parents can help their children make friends by coaching them on how to introduce themselves, how to ask questions to get to know others and remembering to share and smile.

    Don't Minimize Their Feelings

    Moving to a new school is a big transition that can be exciting, but also challenging for a child. It is important that you validate your child's concerns and anxieties if he or she has any. Do not minimize their feelings. It may take weeks or even months for your child to feel comfortable and adjusted. Let them know it is okay for them to feel upset.

    Miller recommends that parents solicit their child's opinions about the new school and continue asking questions about the new routine. Your child should feel that they have a forum in which to discuss their positive and negative feelings about the new school. Keeping yourself informed is important for many reasons, but most crucially, to ensure that adjustment is progressing normally.

    Keep an Eye Out for Serious Difficulties

    Miller urges parents to be aware of "school-related distress that could indicate more serious adjustment difficulties." Warning signs may include excessive illness on school days, actively avoiding any discussion of school, trouble sleeping or bedwetting.

    If your child is simply not adjusting, Miller recommends first scheduling an appointment with the teacher to pinpoint the problem. A hearing and vision test should also be performed to rule out other problems. If problems persist and your child's teacher shares your concerns, you may wish to see if your child can talk to a school counselor or other professional regarding these issues.

    Remember, each child is different and some are going to have more difficulty adjusting to new situations than others. Be patient and supportive.