Changing schools is a big step for most children. They are leaving behind a familiar setting and entering a new environment. This would be true if they were staying in their hometown. Add moving to a new country and possibly experiencing a new language and culture, and the prospect can seem even more daunting. So, supporting children emotionally as they start a new school year is crucial for their well-being and adjustment. Here are some tips to help provide emotional support:
Ask your child how they feel about starting at a new school. Please encourage them to ask questions about going to school. Listen actively and validate their emotions.
Share your own positive experiences about starting new things to help normalise the feelings of excitement and nervousness.
Create a Positive Atmosphere:
Talk about the positive aspects of the new school year, such as new friends, interesting subjects, and exciting activities.
Establish a routine and create a calm environment at home to help alleviate anxiety.
Have a calendar and count down to the first day; this helps to bring excitement.
Visit the School:
If possible, visit the school before the first day. Familiarising your child with the new environment can reduce anxiety. Many schools will have administrative staff on site the week before the start of the new school year.
If you cannot get a tour before starting, visit the school and discuss how you will get there.
Meet the teachers, explore the classrooms, and locate essential areas.
Involve your child in back-to-school preparations, such as shopping for school uniforms and supplies. For younger students, even choosing a lunch box can make them feel more in control and excited.
Some schools will require you to purchase a laptop for your child’s use and also provide you with a book list to purchase.
Practice the morning routine a few days before school starts to help ease the transition. Check what time is drop off and pick up and check for parking.
On a practical note, this will include having a school hat and putting on sunscreen each morning! In the summer months, there is a no hat no play rule in the primary level.
Have them have some input into what they wish to eat on their first day
If they have to catch public transport, do a trial run
Look for ways to meet parents and children from the new school. There might be a parents’ association for the school or your year level or a Facebook group that you can get involved with.
If possible, for example if the school arranges an orientation ahead of time, help your child connect with classmates before the school year begins.
Be proactive in arranging playdates – Australia is not a typically ‘expat’ society so you and your children will likely integrate with Australian families. It can sometimes feel like everyone is very busy and has their established networks, so be proactive and persevere. Australians are very friendly and welcoming.
Many schools have a buddy system for new arrivals to help your child have a welcoming experience from the very beginning. The buddy system will help your child make friends and create a sense of belonging with the school community.
Discuss the importance of being kind and inclusive, encouraging your child to make new friends.
Keep in touch with their friends from their old school. Maintaining that familiar contact is reassuring and provides some stability during a time of change.
Empower with Problem-Solving Skills:
Teach your child problem-solving and coping skills. Discuss scenarios they might encounter and help them brainstorm positive ways to handle challenges.
Reinforce that it's okay to ask for help from teachers or other trusted adults.
Be conscious of your own emotions as you go through this process. This is a big change for parents too and you might experience your own anxiety. This is completely normal, so ensure you can process this by chatting with friends, a partner or a relocation expert so that you can show up for your child(ren).
Maintain a positive attitude about the school year. Your enthusiasm can be contagious and reassuring for your child.
Focus on the opportunities and exciting experiences that the new school year may bring.
Establish a Connection with Teachers:
Teachers are familiar with and trained on welcoming new children to the classroom throughout the year so will ensure your child feels safe, secure and settles quickly.
Introduce yourself to your child's teachers and establish open lines of communication. Knowing that parents and teachers are working together can be comforting for children.
Ask the teacher who your child is playing with at playtime, then connect with those parents for a playdate.
Don’t hesitate to have a chat with the teacher at pick up or drop off to share feedback about your child’s experience or to understand how they are settling in.
Acknowledge and celebrate your child's achievements, no matter how small. This positive reinforcement can boost their confidence.
Keep an eye on your child's behaviour and emotions. If you notice signs of stress or anxiety, address them promptly and offer additional support.
Remember that each child is unique, so tailor your approach based on their individual needs and personality. Providing a supportive and understanding environment can make a significant difference in a child's transition to a new school year.