Monday, August 5, 2013

Back to School Blues: Tips for Helping Children Adjust to a New School

If you have been following and reading my blog for the last few months, you may remember that I shared that I would be homeschooling my boys this fall.  After sorting through doubts and fears, and an overall feeling that something just didn't feel right, I prayed as to whether I was making the right decision for my family.  Last week my husband and I made the decision to place our young sons in our local public school. Part of my decision was the fact that we just moved to a new town and do not know anyone and have not made any connections in our new community.  Another factor was that last school year, I took a leave of absence and later resigned from my teaching position because of health reasons.  I want consistency for my boys and was a bit worried that I would begin homeschooling and then may not be able to finish out the year.
welcome back to school chalkboard

With that being said, we are excited and a bit anxious about this new adventure.  It will be the first time my two youngest children will attend a public school.  It will be the first time they attend school without their mom, as I worked as a reading specialist at their previous school.  I have two very social boys who love to learn, yet they are very worried about attending their new school.  The youngest has Selective Mutism and has never talked out loud in a school setting. I have been thinking and reading about how to help prepare them for a new school, especially for my little guy who has extreme anxiety. What follows are my Five Tips for helping children adjust to a new school.

1.  We have prayed for God to direct our paths, to provide opportunities to meet other families, for the new school faculty and students, and for the teachers that we haven't even met yet!

2.  If you have moved to a new house and/or community like we have, take time to explore your new neighborhood with your children.  Take a walk or bike ride after dinner when most people and other kids are home.  It's a great opportunity to get a feel for how many other children are in the neighborhood and you have a chance of meeting and talking with your new neighbors.  Your children can meet a new friend or two, you get to make adult contact, and ask questions about your new community.

3.  Focus on the positive.  At just the mention of attending a new school, my youngest child was sobbing and insisting that he would not go. School has always been a source of extreme anxiety for him.  As we were running errands or completing household chores, I would casually mention things that I knew would appeal to him.  We talked about how he would now have a cafeteria in which to eat lunch and would most likely have recess at the same time as his brother.  We looked through fliers and catalogs to start making a list for back to school supplies.  I asked him what kind of new shoes he wanted.  In conversations, it helps to divert the child's attention away from what causes them stress and focus on their specific interests.  I did not mention the teacher, the other children, or speaking in the classroom, all stresses for my child.

4.  Visit the school and take a tour.  Going to visit the school in the summer when the atmosphere is more relaxed and mom and/or dad can accompany the child can ease anxiety.  For the child with Selective Mutism, it is also very important to visit the school and their classroom when the teacher and other students are not present.  Of course, you will need permission to do so from the administration.  This allows the child to check out their classroom with the security of being with mom and dad, thus setting a comfortable and positive tone which just might encourage the child to speak out loud and to realize that they can speak in the classroom. If possible, a next step would be to meet the teacher before school starts, maybe stopping by for a few minutes as the teacher is setting up her room.

5.  Visit the school as much as possible before Open House and the first day of school.  If permissible, walk or drive to the school to play on the playground and to explore the campus.  As you are there, you have opportunities to meet other children, teachers, and school faculty.

Going to a new school is scary for both children, their parents, and even for teachers!  Easing into the school year in a relaxed and fun way can ease the back to school jitters for both mom and the kids!

What are your suggestions for helping kids adjust to a new school?  I'd love to read your comments!

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