How to Help Your Child Transition to a New School

The following piece was written by Liz Perelstein. Liz has been featured in our Admissions Expert series and is the Founder of School Choice International.


It’s the start of a new year. Whether entering Kindergarten, middle school, high school, or even a non-traditional entry year, many children are beginning a new era of their education. Transitions invariably are difficult, so you may see your child struggling socially or academically. To parents, this is painful. When my family moved to London for three years, my kids were in the middle of the 4th grade and the 6th grade. My daughter sat in the cafeteria for six weeks without talking to anyone, while my son was invited to play-dates and a sleepover party the first weekend. My daughter waited and watched, but ultimately made lifelong friends. In the end, my son went through four different social groups before he found his niche. Both styles are normal, and both children ended up fine. But I went through a great deal of anguish until they were settled. Having lived it firsthand, and seen thousands of children transition over the past 15 years, I have some strategies to help you feel more comfortable with the process of transition, and some tips for making your child’s entry easier.

What is natural for children in transition: 

1. Young children may cry and children of any age may not want to go to school. 

2. Children may revert to old behaviors and insecurities, which might take the form of difficulty separating from you, forming friendships, or academic confidence. This is temporary; when your child becomes more comfortable in the new setting, he will appear more like himself. 

3. Within the classroom, children may “jockey for position” at the start of a new year, particularly in grades where many children are new. Insecurity doesn’t bring out the best in children, who may appear aggressive or socially withdrawn until they find a friend. Seeing your child in either of these roles is difficult, but it should dissipate as she gains confidence.

4. Your child may not be “available” to make new friends if he has been separated from close friends in his former school. As much as you push, he may not want to enter the social environment for awhile. 

5. Academically, your child may have lost ground over the summer and feel uncomfortable about this in a new school. She may be exposed to subjects, skills, or topics of study with which she is unfamiliar. A “top” student may find herself at a loss and not understand why.

Here are some things you can do to ease the transition:

1. Talk to your child. Even if he appears reticent, he will hear you. Point out that transition is a process. Explain that you expect it to take time for him to adjust. Repeatedly point out the progress that he has made. It can be difficult for the one going through this to notice the progress.

2. Explain that it is natural to feel socially awkward, and that even the children who appear confident experience these feelings. 

3. Make sure you communicate to your child that you are okay with her transitional behavior. She shouldn’t feel like she has to take care of you; she won’t talk openly about her feelings if she sees you suffer. 

4. If your child is floundering academically, explain that this is normal in a new school and that it is not his fault. Once he recognizes that he has not had the preparation that his peers may have had, he will feel more comfortable. Let him know that you will do anything he needs to bring him up to speed, whether working with him in the evenings or getting a tutor – until you have evened the playing field.

5. Steer your child toward activities that interest her or at which she excels. If she takes ballet, plays the piano, or plays soccer, find after school activities where she can show her skills. Preferably, these should be programs in which some new classmates participate. This will instill confidence and identify kids who share her interests. It is much easier to find common ground with others when you have something to talk about.

6. For young children, seek out mothers or fathers of other kids with whom you can arrange day trips or play-dates, and bring them together outside of school.

Above all, maintain confidence in your child. S/he will pick up on your anxiety. Remind yourself of all of her strengths and his prior successes. Give him or her a boost by expressing, through words and your demeanor, that you know s/he is capable and will be successful in his or her new school. And then be patient – *if transitional issues persist for an extended period of time or intensify rather than resolve, consult your school or a professional.


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The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.