I Gots Them New School Jitters!
6 Tips for Help Your Child Transition to a New School
by Peter Braverman, Arc Professional Development, Founder
Few transitions are as daunting as entering a new school, with the potential to exacerbate every insecurity: Will they accept me? Will they want to be my friends? Will the teacher be mean to me? Will the Head of School forget my name? Will they think I’m a dork because of the car my family owns? And, hey, that’s just the PARENTS!
Kidding aside, students often wonder how the first days at a new school will go — who doesn’t think about an unfamiliar situation with some healthy trepidation? The excitement of the adventures ahead exists side-by-side with normal kid anxieties: social pressures, intellectual demands, am I gonna drop my iPad? Here are a few tips that may help to ease the transition between mid-summer and the beginning of school around September 1.
- Read. I’ve never heard of a school that doesn’t want its kids to keep reading all summer, whether that’s assigned books or those your child has chosen. Titles don’t have to be high-falutin — your fourth-grader isn’t going to get much from Heart of Darkness during your beach vacation, no matter how brilliant she is. Instead, choose solid writing and exciting plots. (Um, reverse that order.) Most schools publish lists of recommended summer reading, and there are a zillion resources online. Every librarian in the world (yes, I understand some people still go to libraries, sheesh) would be happy to suggest titles. Have your kids ask their friends, too. Don’t neglect Sports Illustrated, or serious articles in Esquire or XOJane or O or Vanity Fair if your kids are older. With the decline of print magazines and more competition for “real” journalism jobs, the quality of writing has never been stronger.
- See a movie or eat some burritos. If your kids are older, about grades 6 to 9, offer to coordinate with the grade parents so kids can see a movie at the mall. (The school will tell you who the grade parents are.) You can also take in a minor-league baseball game, go ice-skating in the summer, have a cookout for the kids, or meet for lunch at a local favorite like California Tortilla. Most kids will love it; even those who seem to hold back are almost always grateful for being included, and everybody needs to start somewhere.
- Drink. (Coffee.) You can learn a lot by asking other parents to grab coffee one morning, or inviting parents and kids to a popsicle party one afternoon at a nearby park. Talk to other parents in your child’s rising grade. What do they perceive to be the tenor of the class? What do the students like? What hasn’t played well thus far? If your kids are the right ages (about K to grade 6), they’ll run around with others while the adults make ice-breaking talk.
- Be honest. If your child is anxious about the beginning of school, speak to the admission director, who can help teachers understand.
- But don’t be too honest. Once you’ve talked to somebody, back off unless the school reaches out to you. Children have to deal with the reality of school, and parents who are overly insistent on spilling everything about their children seldom benefit anybody, least of all the anxious children themselves. After 30 minutes helping the school understand your child, you’re probably helping them understand YOU. Trust them. Even if you’re wrong, your child is probably better off.
- Finally: LISTEN. Ask your kids what they think about the upcoming year without judgment, and let them talk. Try not to load questions with the freight of the past. Avoid questions like “What makes you really concerned?” or “Are you scared the kids will be mean like they were in your previous school?” Don’t offer your own experience — it’s not theirs. Just let your child talk, and try to reply with more open-ended questions (“Tell me more about why you feel that way”), rather than instructing (“It’s important to invite three girls to eat with you in the first week”), or offering to “fix” something. Mostly kids just want to blow off steam and to know that somebody will listen. It’s not our job as parents to adapt the world to our children, but to help them develop skills to adapt to their world. Start with school. Compared to the rest of the world, it’s pretty safe.
At the beginning of a new year, I often told parents, whether their kids were entering my school or making a transition to a new one, that we want our kids to be just a little nervous.
For most (not all) kids, too much confidence is probably unjustified, and risks alienating others. Too much worry may belie other concerns, too, but in all likelihood, your children will overcome the challenge of new-school-insecurities shortly after they start, and long before you do. That’s because kids are resilient; they’re MADE to forget yesterday’s insult so they can continue to evolve with as little baggage as possible.
Now if we can just settle down as parents, we’d really have a plan here!
Peter Braverman was a school administrator in the Chicago and Washington, DC areas for nearly 20 years. He was Middle School Head and Director of High School Placement at Green Acres School in Rockville, Maryland, from 2003 to 2015. Peter recently founded Arc Professional Development, which provides various services to school parents, teachers, and administrators. Further information is online at www.arcpd.com.