ChildrenLauren Grossbach

Supporting Kids Through Tough Transitions: Changing Schools

School books, pencils and blocks on a new desk at a new school

In the part three of my blog series I talked about grief from death. Today, I’ll be talking about ways you can help your child transition into a new school.

Think back to the last time you started a new job. Or the last time you moved to a new home. How did it feel?

Exciting… Scary… New… Stressful… Overwhelming…

When it’s time for your child to transition to a new school, he/she will feel all of the above and more. Kids transition to new schools when they graduate from a previous school (such as the transition from elementary school to middle school), when their parents relocate, or when their needs are better served in a different school. No matter the reason, your child can experience stress and uncertainty before, during, and after the transition. 


Tips to help guide your child through this change


Acknowledge the feelings of loss

Whether this transition is positive or not, your child may feel loss and grief from leaving their previous school. If your child expresses sadness over this loss, simply acknowledge it.

Child: “I’m really going to miss my teacher”

You: “It’s sad not to be able to see someone who you really enjoyed learning with. I’m sure she’ll miss you too.”

Acknowledge that the feelings of loss might be mixed with other feelings, too.  This is important because it can be confusing for children to experience grief and excitement or grief and anger at the same time.  In these moments, resist the urge to give positive advice such as: “But your new teachers will be great too!”. In order for your child to start moving forward, you first need to acknowledge their loss.


Allow time for your child to explore the new school (if possible)

Before your child’s first day at his/her new school, I strongly encourage working with the school administration to allow your child to physically explore the school. This will help minimize some of the first-day anxieties, such as finding their classroom and locker. In addition, this begins the process of creating familiarity with the school which naturally lowers anxiety.  Furthermore, a visit will provide you with information that you and your child can talk about in the days before school.  You can brainstorm solutions for any potential problems or concerns your child may have about the environment before they start school. Most schools are happy to show you and your child around before the big day.  During the tour, point out positive things you see that your child might not notice.  


Honor courage

One of the best ways to support your child, especially during a transition, is to remind them of how proud you are. Change takes courage. Let your child know that you honor their courage. Tell him/her that you’re proud, and be specific when you praise them…

“I loved hearing you ask questions during the tour. You’re so great at speaking up for yourself”

“It took courage to find a group of friends to eat lunch with. I’m so proud of you for being brave in those moments”

“I notice that you’ve been doing your homework right when you come home from school. You’ve handled these new responsibilities so well. I’m so proud of you”

Why be so specific? Because this will encourage your child to do more of that specific thing. Purposeful, specific praise helps your child feel more in control. When your children know exactly what they did to generate the encouragement, they can repeat that behavior. Furthermore, it gives more credibility to the statement when it is tied to a specific act instead of a general vagueness. Hearing specific praise and knowing that you’re proud of their bravery will give your child the strength to continue.


Check out the whole Supporting Kids Through Tough Transitions Series:

Part 1: Supporting Kids Through Tough Transitons

Part 2: Divorce

Part 3: Grief from Death


If your child is struggling with a difficult change,

learn more about our Child Therapy Services.


Contact us for a free phone consultation.

(908) 242-3634 or  Connect Now


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