With the end of another school year looming, I have made the tough decision to move my nine-year-old daughter at the start of next year to a local school where she knows no one. We have driven the 20 minutes to and from our old neighbourhood for the past couple of years, believing it was best to provide continuity, and for her to keep in touch with her friends. But the hard realisation occurred to me recently that my daughter is struggling with friendships this year. There are loads of reasons for this but I think a large part of it is because we live so far away.
Luckily, my daughter is keen to make new friends and join a school that is a short bike ride away. But I worry that she is unprepared for how tough being the new kid can be. I want to do all I can to try to minimise the tough stuff and make the change a positive one.
According to the New South Wales Department of Education, what kids want most when they change schools is to fit in. This can mean having the right uniform and bag, knowing what days they need to take sports clothes, having the right books and knowing regulations on hair and jewellery at school. Standing out for any reason can be tough, especially for younger children, but being new and standing out is extra tough.
Other things you can do include:
Take your child on a tour of the school. Show them their classroom and where the toilets are. And if they will be making their own way to school, take a practice trip there a few times so they are confident they know where they are going. It would also be useful to identify somewhere they can go at lunchtime if they don’t have anybody to play with. My daughter’s current school has an area at the library where kids can go and play games with other kids if they don’t have anyone to play with, which I think is wonderful. Check with your school if they have anything similar.
Get involved yourself. Go along to a P&C meeting, chat to other parents at the school gate and volunteer to get involved with the school if you can. Meeting other parents can be a great way to grease the social wheels for your kids.
Introduce your child to their new teacher and/or the school principal if possible. A familiar, friendly face on day one will go a long way to settling those nerves.
Talk about the change at home in a positive light. Yes, change can be scary, but there is a reason you are changing, right? For my daughter, we are talking a lot about the opportunity to make friends who live in our neighbourhood, and about being able to ride her bike to school. These are big selling points for my daughter. For myself, I am focusing on the lessons she will learn in resilience and empathy for others in a similar situation.
Make the change at the start of the school year. Ruth Still, who manages school counsellors in New South Wales in public schools, says it can help smooth the transition. This is when kids are being put into new classes and forming friendships for the year. "It allows new children to blend in better when all the kids are going through change," Ruth says.
Communicate with your child’s new teacher regularly during those early weeks to check on how your child is going and deal with any issues as early as possible.
Have your children changed schools? What advice would you offer?