Back to School Guidance for the New Kid
As schools around the US start a new year, many kids are going through the experience of being the new kid. Almost every person has been in this position, whether it is a new school due to relocation or simply due to advancing grades.
I have been in the position of new kid more times than I ever would like, and have also had to parent the new kid a few times, too. By the time that I was starting my third-grade year, I was in my fourth school, and the shine of new experiences had completely rubbed off. I had missed the first few days of the school year thanks to a horrific strep infection, and my father was tasked with taking me to my new school on his way to work.
He pulled up to the new school and I burst into tears. The tears quickly became hysterical as he tried to coax me out of the car. I remember us sitting in the car for what felt like a long time, with dad trying to come up with a strategy to get me out of the car and into school. After a little while, he figured out that there was no rational way to get me through the door, and just demanded that I walk into school. I cried the whole day. It was Sugarland Run Elementary in Sterling, Virginia, and was followed by no less than four more schools until I finally graduated high school.
When I became a parent, I promised that I would never put my kids through that much transition. As with all future-oriented promises, I have completely broken it. My oldest went to one school for kindergarten, another for first and half of second grade, another for the second half of second grade, back to the original school for third grade and onto school number four for fourth grade. So, I did a bang-up job keeping that promise.
Here Are a Few Pieces of Wisdom Gained Along the Way:
1. Make Room for the Hard Emotions
As parents, we want to make it better, and our attempts at making it better can feel really invalidating for our kids. It is far better to hear their feelings on the issue, summarize what they are saying, and express understanding.
Don’t try to problem-solve the emotions until you have listened well and/or have been asked for solutions. You want your relationship to be a safe place for hard emotions.
2. Don’t Give Them the Impression That They Have a Choice Unless They Do
When we were moving back to Charlotte prior to my son starting third grade, we gave him a choice in what school he would go to, because we knew we would be renting for a while and could have more freedom in chosen location. When we bought the next house, he didn’t have a choice, about which we also were very clear.
3. Be Patient
The first several weeks can be really tough, and most kids won’t feel completely comfortable for a few months. Parents can get impatient with wanting everything in the family to be okay, and need to know that allowing for time can create more safety for their kids to express emotions.
4. Consider Some Confidence Boosters
The outfit for the first day of school, backpack, preferred shoes, sometimes something small can create a good sense of confidence. My son wore his camp t-shirt on his first day because we both were hoping that it might create a common connection with other kids at his new school. Items that feel like a reflection of identity can be helpful when entering a new social environment.
When I started a new high school in 10th grade, I viewed it as an opportunity to try on a new identity, and clothing was a big part of it. For some people, thinking through the desired identity can help the transition feel hopeful rather than scary.
5. Don’t Overdo Reminders of Home (Near or Far)
For my middle child, a note of support in the lunch box is just the right amount of encouragement, but other kids can have a resurgence of their negative feelings when they experience a reminder of home. Social media didn’t exist when I did all of my moving, but letters from friends always came with mixed emotions- happiness to have that connection along with intense sadness for its absence.
Try to limit time in social media and talking to old friends so that there is an opportunity to create those new social ties. Sports and other organized activities can really help to create these new relationships. Our relationships in real life need to be the priority so that we can adapt.
6. Find Some Treasure
One of my favorite writers, Russ Harris, states that we need to treat each day as a treasure hunt, especially when the days are hard. Try to engage your child in the treasure hunt, and you can turn on the curiosity in them. By engaging with curiosity, we open the opportunity for positive emotions. When my son started a new school in a new town, we had fun with trying to understand the culture of the new place.
Hopefully, all of these tips will provide some insight to easing this process. Either way, time passes, but it can be really helpful to know how to support your child in an effective manner. Here’s to a new year, with all of its promise and heartache!