Changing your child’s school can be one of the most difficult experiences a parent can go through, and stands up there amongst sending kids on their first date, leaving them at nursery for the first time, deciding on the right school…you get the drill.
It’s not that deep down you don’t know that things will probably be okay. But as you send them out there into the unknown- knowing that walking into their new classroom their heart is in their stomach, it’s so hard to feel reassured.
Whatever your motivation for moving your child, – moving house, bullying, academia, a closer school- the initial transition can always feel difficult.
I did that recently- moved my 6 year old from one school to another. Not because I moved house but for a myriad of reasons- reasons she’s probably too young to understand. She was happy where she was. But we moved her. And she’s spent nearly four months adjusting to her new school. And it was stressful. And hard. And, at times we as parents felt like we’d made the wrong decision.
We’re just finally coming out of what we feel has been the most difficult stage of her transition. She’s sensitive and I knew it would be hard adjusting to change. She struggles with the ‘what ifs?’ and it’s definitely taken a knock to her confidence.
But the best part is, she’s learned a lot about herself and we (she and I) talk a lot. If there is one thing that I hope continues it’s that she knows she’s got an open door to come to me about anything.
We don’t regret it because the school is pushing her to explore depths of talent even she didn’t know she had. And that’s a good thing. But also uncomfortable.
Staying was easy. Staying was comfortable. But we knew it would only get harder as she grew up. Not underestimating the 3 years she’d already spent at the school (enough time to form some deep friendships), we knew she’d have four more years to make new friends. And we make sure we keep in contact with old ones.
She still has good days and bad. And sometimes she goes into that place where she says she has no friends but we both know that’s untrue and I’ve found it helpful not to let her go there- even if she wants to.
Having come through the experience on the other end and for those parents that may be contemplating change over the summer, here are a few things to consider before moving your child.
1. Make sure (if you can) to keep up old friendships.
It’s important. Just like we, as adults, wouldn’t just cut off old friendships just because we move jobs or move house, we shouldn’t expect this of our children, just because we’re the ones in control of whether they see them or not. We live in an era of Skype, FaceTime, even phone calls if you don’t live local. It’s easy to keep in touch and important for your child to know that they’ve not been forgotten and that they can see and visit their friends.
2) Open communication.
This has been one of the best things that has helped my daughter. She’s been able to share her concerns, her worries and all the questions she has about her new school. One of her worries was whether some of her classmates would be kind to her. We talked this through, exploring whether there are some kids in her current class that are nice and some that may not always be and that this will be the same wherever you go. But reassure them that most people are kind when they first meet somebody, wouldn’t she be?
3) Consult with your children but don’t let them decide.
Moving our daughter was a huge decision for us and one that we mulled over for awhile having tried different things to work with the school she was at and see if there were ways that we could get from it what we wanted. When we didn’t see that happening, we felt more and more drawn to this new school. Some of the reasons we couldn’t always share with her as they were about things she may not have always understood- long term vision, bigger picture as a family etc. Children think in terms of the short term and their immediate situation. We did share with her slowly some of the reasons but left it open for her to see some of the advantages herself as well. We talked with her at every step of the process getting her ready but ultimately it was our decision as parents.
4) Attitude (yours as well as theirs).
The day I stopped feeling sorry for my daughter was the day that she stopped crying. It’s fine to have sympathy but let’s talk about the energy that we’re putting out into the world. Children are smart and will pick up on the attention they get because they make a fuss every morning. That’s not to say their feelings aren’t real. But I remember about 6 weeks in after a couple of weeks of crying every morning but happy faces when I picked her up, I knew she was generally okay. We had a chat about being brave and deciding that this was going to be a good day. It was. And it marked a shift in how she went in. Share your child’s feelings but don’t become so bogged down in being empathetic that you’re both just wallowing in regret and sadness.
5) Do a taster session beyond just a visit.
One of the best things we as parents requested of the new school was for our daughter to spend a morning or a day with her new classmates and teacher. This was groundbreaking in that our daughter was able to see that the children were normal (not scary and mean), the teacher was kind and that it was in fact, very similar to what her current classroom was like. Knowing this before the big first day really helps to take away the fear of the unknown.
6) Celebrate the positives when they happen.
When new achievements, friends, trips or opportunities happen at the new school, celebrate these and empathise to your child how they might never have had that experience if they hadn’t moved. Our child started a new term in January when the whole school was immersed in a Shakespeare production. My daughter loves performing and was given a lead role in the play. Having this to work towards and to be given such a fantastic starring role was incredibly motivating and a boost to her confidence.
7) Try to make playdates with new school mates
to speed up the settling in process and foster tighter bonds- even if it’s just between a couple of new friends. Friends- new and old- will always be the main concern for your child at their new school. Whether they have any, whether they will lose their old ones etc.
The sooner you can solve this issue, the sooner things will settle down. Try to make friendships with some of the other parents and suggest a playdate. It also helps you, as a parent, to form a community and to feel more settled into your child’s new school.
Starting at a new school is hard no matter what. With awareness of what to look out for and how to help the transition become easier, you can weather even the hardest of moves. Change doesn’t have to come at a price.