All the changes that come with a new school year can bring about much anticipation, excitement and nervousness. How to best prepare a child for the year ahead depends on age, whether the change is within a current school or involves a move to a new school, the child’s history of coping with change and transition, and whether previous school experience, if there was one, was positive or negative overall.
Age as a Determining Factor
Younger children depend almost solely upon their parents and caregivers for support in times of transition. Programs for younger children typically have phases during which children can meet new teachers and see their classroom with the support of their parents. Many programs have extended settling-in periods as well, that allow parents to stay with their child until they have become somewhat acclimated to their new environment.
As children grow older, they need less and less direct support in transitioning from one school year to the next. Older children, if they are moving into middle or high school years, can benefit from parents remaining open to discussion about changes and transitions.
Change within a School Versus a Move to a New School
Changes within a school can be smoother transitions, since children have an opportunity to make use of preparation from previous teacher(s). They can be comforted by the fact that they may still see previous teachers from time to time, making goodbyes feel less permanent. Still, a change from one teacher to another means a new teacher-child relationship develops from the beginning. Teachers vary in style and approach, even within a program, so children need to adapt and accept help in new ways when they have new teachers.
Children making a transition from one teacher to another benefit from their parents talking about these changes. Feelings of missing their former teachers should be esteemed, and at the same time, they should be encouraged to accept new relationships. Parents can help by putting words to these feelings, reminding children that forging a new relationship takes work, and by making comments such as, “Last year, Ms. Mary knew all about your love of cars. Ms. Sue doesn’t know that about you yet. We’ll have to make sure we let her know.”
When the change involves a move to a new school altogether, the comforts and familiarity of the previous school and teachers exist in memory only. In addition to a new classroom and the relationship with a new teacher, there are new peers and a new physical environment to navigate. Ongoing discussions about feelings associated with these changes can help parents gain a sense of how their child is adapting to the new environment.
For children with a history of difficulty with transitions or who have previously had a negative school experience, it is more crucial that additional measures and precautions be taken to ensure a smooth transition and to prevent repeated failed experiences. If you have questions or concerns about your child’s ability to settle into a group in a school setting, share your concerns with your pediatrician, or request a consultation from the Lucy Daniels Center or another qualified professional.