Helping your teenager settle into a new school

New school nerves ...
New school nerves ... Photo: Getty

When Lisa Almond moved high schools at the beginning of year 11, she remembers feeling a range of different emotions. "Name an emotion and I experienced it," says Lisa, who had to change schools because her mother decided to relocate. "[I felt] loss, apprehension, anger, fear, worry, [and] sadness."

Lisa remembers the first day at her new school clearly. She had come from a school with strict rules about uniform and she adhered to these rules when she started at her new school. Only problem was the new school was nowhere near as strict about what students wore.

"When I entered the school I instantly felt out of place," says Lisa. "Everyone else had on track suit pants and trendy runners and I was in a fitted skirt and black shoes." She also remembers feeling lost and having no idea where she had to go for roll call, or how to read the timetable properly.

While changing high schools may not seem a big deal to some, adolescent psychologist, Dr Michael Carr-Greg says it is one of the toughest challenges his teenage clients have to face.

"They feel weird and different at a new place," says Dr. Carr-Greg. "They miss their old friends, they have to learn a new school layout, new teachers, [and] new rules. Many feel shy or nervous about talking to new people and after the first few days many feel emotionally and physically exhausted from adjusting to all this new stuff."

The adjustment process can take some time. Lisa says it took her about a month to settle in and find her own crowd. "I sat with a few different groups before finding my people," says Lisa. "When I finally did fit in I felt relieved."

So how can teenagers settle into a new high school easily?

1. Find a teacher they can rely on. Encourage your teenage child to reach out to a teacher, or perhaps their year coordinator, to ask about timetables, assignments and expectations.

2. Ask for a buddy. High school teacher and year coordinator, Rikki Fitzsimons pairs up new students with existing students to help them settle in and combat the challenge of making new friends.

3. Speak to their year coordinator. Rikki recommends students who are finding it hard to adjust speak with their year coordinator. "The year coordinator sits down with [students] and works through strategies for many issues that [students] may be facing," says Rikki.

4. Let teachers know how they are coping. "If [students] are finding the workload too hard or even too easy, I encourage them to speak to their teachers themselves," says Rikki, who acknowledges this may be daunting for new students but assures most teachers will be understanding about the matter.

As for adolescent psychologist Dr. Michael Carr-Greg, he offers his teenage clients the following advice:

5. Do what you like.  Whether it's playing music, art, drama, sports, writing, drawing or anything else, there'll be someone who's into the same things as you.

6. Smile and talk to people. Ask them questions about them. They are curious about you anyway because you are new, so if there is someone you like, have a chat with them.

7. Keep in contact with your old friends. Just because you aren't seeing them every day doesn't mean you can't stay close.

8. Express yourself. If you've got some way of expressing what is happening for you – a journal, writing songs, playing sports or talking to someone – it will make the move easier.

9. Be patient. It can be pretty annoying to have to learn all of the people, places, teachers and subjects again from scratch. But things will fall into place for you at your new school if you give them time.

Lisa also found talking to her mother made the transition easier. She was open with her mum and told her how she wasn't liking her new school, and in return her mum helped her work through all the different emotions she was experiencing.

If you have a teenage child changing high school this year it is important to remember the transition will take time, and it is perfectly normal for them to experience a whole raft of emotions until they settle into their new school and meet new friends.

And Lisa has this advice for students changing schools this year: "It will be okay, I promise. I moved [schools] quite a bit as a child and I can honestly say you will find your crowd no matter where you go."

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