WHO will I sit with at lunch? Will I be able to make new friends?
Often one of the top fears new students have concerns friendships and being lonely during those first days (especially during those first lunch hours!). Remind them of times in the past, whether joining a new sport or activity or starting school, where they made friends, and let them know that this new school will be no different. Encourage them to be friendly, smile, and take the initiative to approach others and introduce themselves. If they are concerned at lunch, help them create a plan to look for friendly faces around the lunchroom to approach. Also, ask their teachers if they might know of a welcoming student they could ask to show your child around that first week.
Additionally, have conversations with your children about what makes a good friend, so they can have that in their minds as they evaluate the friends they will be bringing in to their lives.
WHAT if the classes are harder here and I can’t keep up?
Some children worry about the academic transition and how they will perform at the new school. Making sure your child is placed in the right class levels can be challenging and may take some time to assess, but it is important to do so. Bring the old school’s transcripts and any testing results with you when you enroll your child in school. Work with the new school to find the right class placement. If you don’t believe your child has been placed at the right level, ask what your options are. For some schools, children may be able to test into higher levels or you may be able to touch base with the teacher in a month to see about re-adjusting placements. If you believe your child has been placed in the right level but is missing some foundational components due to the transition, look in to tutoring or online resources to allow him or her to catch up and not become discouraged.
WHERE am I going? What do I do if I get lost?
Take your child on a tour of their school before starting and walk with them to key rooms and locations. Assure your child that there will be friendly faces around to help. Tell them to reach out to teachers or to helpful classmates to ask if they are in need. Also, this is a likely a good time to have a conversation about how to identify ‘safe’ people. The old adage that strangers are bad can be a confusing and unhelpful concept for new students, during a time when everyone is a stranger. It is more important to teach them how to identify safe people.
WHEN does this start to feel more comfortable?
Assure your children that while it will take some time, each day they are making progress toward feeling more comfortable. It may take a few months to feel like home, but it will get there, even when it feels like it won’t. Encourage your children to think of three things that went well each day, no matter how small. Practice supporting them through the challenges of the transition while also guiding them to focus on the positive as well.
WHY did we have to move here in the first place?
Give them a hug. Then remind them that you know the move is hard on everyone, but that it was done for a good reason (a job, etc.). Move on from the “why” of it to describe what your family values and what is most important. Explain that you value being together and supporting one another to help them understand the broader context behind the move. Then let them know that they are loved and you want to do what you can to help them adjust to your new home.
First day nerves are natural and to be expected, but equipping your children with awareness and coping mechanisms to handle change will help get them through those first weeks (as well as aide them throughout future new experiences). For more resources to help your teen or pre-teen through a move, see The Essential Moving Guided Journal for Teens and The Essential Moving Guided Journal for Preteens.