Whether your child is entering a new school, moving up to middle school, or even just starting a new grade, back to school time can be stressful for a lot - if not the majority - of kids. Sally Guzdar, 42 and mom of three, has two out of three of her children entering new schools this year. She thinks the most important thing she did to ease her girls' transitions was to help them feel comfortable in their new environments by making a point to visit their schools a few times before the first day. "I took my four year old to her new school's playground a few times to show her how fun her new school was going to be, and made sure I brought her siblings with us to encourage her to have fun," Sally says. "For my fifth grader," she continues, " I made sure we attended all open house and orientation activities, so she was comfortable with her new school's layout - especially as it is quite a bit bigger than her old school."
In addition to familiarizing kids with their new physical environment, it can be extremely helpful to make them comfortable with their new social environment by setting up play dates before the school year starts or early in the school year to forge some friendships at their new school. Even seeing one familiar face in a sea of strangers can make a big difference in quieting kids' unease in joining a new classroom. This also applies to the child who is not necessarily starting a new school but can have shy tendencies; help your shy child by organizing an after school or weekend play date with the classmate of their choice. Sometimes friendships are more easily made one-on-one and outside of the school environment.
Here are some other tips to help kids' back to school transitions:
Back to school shopping. If possible, take your child with you when shopping for school supplies to get them excited for the new year. Any way you can involve them in a positive way will help them to look forward to school.
Positive, positive, positive. Make sure to talk up all of the fun aspects of your child's new school - whether it's the great playground for pre-schoolers, or the more elaborate lunch for new-to-upper schoolers. Even if you are anxious about your child's new situation, don't betray your anxiety, which will definitely make the situation more challenging.
Forge friendships by taking advantage of your child's interests. If your child has a difficult time connecting with classmates, take advantage of what they are interested in and get them involved in the activity. The surest way to make friends is to find people with common interests. Every child is interested in something - if it's reading, animals, computer games, even cooking; sign your child up for a group or class at the school or your local library, zoo, Y or other community group and your child is likely to make a new friend.
Share your stories. Sometimes kids forget that yes, parents were kids once too, and went through all of the trials and tribulations of experiencing new schools, grades, friends, etc. It can be helpful to think of a time you were anxious about a new school situation and share how you dealt with it and how it all worked out for the best (hopefully!).
Keep communication open. Make sure your child knows she can come to you with any feelings or worries she has - and you are there to help. Sometimes kids just need a sounding board to voice frustrations or anxieties - simply telling someone can sometimes take care of the problem.