Helping kids adjust to a new school can start with parents

Changing schools can be a tough transition for a child. If your child is going to a new school this year - because you have moved or decided to change schools or because your child is moving from elementary school to middle school, for example - there are some things you can do to help.

Look for ways for your child to meet children who will be going to the new school.

Make a big deal out of shopping for supplies or choosing an outfit for the first day of school.

Discuss what your child should expect as the day unfolds.

And on the first day itself, make sure that you are prepared so that you don't have to rush.

But the most important thing you can do is to manage your own fears and expectations.

"Be mindful of your own anxiety and worries in how you interact with your child," said Jacqueline A. Rhew, LCPC, clinical consultant and community liaison at Amita Health Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital Hoffman Estates. "Sometimes when kids go to new situations, parents make such a big deal of it that the kids get alarmed."

She likened it to when you are on an airplane and hit turbulence. "Most people look to the flight attendant. If the flight attendant is calm, you relax. But if the flight attendant looks nervous, you think, 'This is bad.'"

If you are anxious about how your child will adapt, don't express that concern to the child. For example, don't say, "Are you worried about going to a new school?" Instead, say, "What do you think your new school will be like?"

Remind the child of other times he or she had to handle a new experience. Ask the child about what kinds of things helped in those situations. You also can talk to your child about when you had a transition, such as starting a new job, and things you did to make it easier.

Understand that there will be good days and bad days as your child adjusts, and don't overreact to the bad days. "Allow for the adjustment phase," Rhew said. "It takes a good month for a child to really adjust."

Part of that adjustment might involve your child being uncomfortable.

"You need to be comfortable with your kids being uncomfortable," Rhew said. Don't hover or ask them lots of questions. Give the child space to work through things.

If after several weeks your child is doing things like regularly refusing to go to school or throwing a tantrum when you insist, being unusually clingy, or having problems eating or sleeping, you can check with the school to see what the child's teachers are observing.

If the problem continues or worsens, talk to a health care professional. But don't be too quick to decide your child is having serious difficulties.

"A vital part of development is learning how to work through new situations. And even though this may be difficult, this is going to promote a lot of emotional growth if they can learn to adapt," Rhew said.

"Trust the process. Many kids have done this, and yours can too."

• Children's health is a continuing series. This week's article is courtesy of Amita Health, which is comprised of 19 hospitals and more than 230 sites of care, including Amita Health Alexian Brothers Women & Children's Hospital Hoffman Estates. Amita Health has 900 providers in its medical groups, more than 26,000 associates and 7,000 physician partners and serves over 4.3 million residents in the greater Chicago area. For more information about Amita Health's pediatric programs, visit

Jacqueline A. Rhew
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