This year we faced another hard parenting decision. I tell you, they just keep on coming! This year we made the decision that our daughter would move schools. It was one of the hardest decisions we have made. We love our kids. At times we would chop off our own arm to spare them from pain and heartache so the thought of stressing them out through the process of moving schools can cause parent to delay what can be an important and correct decision.
The difficulty we had with making the decision led me to write this blog post in the hope of helping other parents and carers who are thinking about making a move between schools or those who have already leaped and need to support their kids.
Love or Loathe it?
I think the reason for the school move can make a massive difference in how the change is processed. You can have children changing schools due to issues such as bullying or friendship difficulties, improved opportunities in a different setting, scholarships etc. These child centred ‘positive change’ moves are often ones which the child is searching for and looking forward to. These changes can directly involve the child and therefore the child feels like they are ‘benefiting’ from the move.
Then there are moves for other reasons such as relocating address and moving house, financial issues, family sickness and/or philosophical school value disagreements. These tend to be factors outside of the child and therefore can lead to the child digging in their heels regarding the move. Children in these circumstances are moved due to issues which can impact the family or parents more than the child directly and so children can be left feeling powerless in the situation
With the first kind of motivation for moving schools parents can be viewed positively as the rescuers in the school situation. Children who are in the second situation may look at you and with laserbeams shooting from their eyes declare “i hate you” for uprooting them.
Today I want to talk about supporting our kids when they are not thrilled with the idea of moving schools.
Choose the timing
The first suggestion I will make is knowing your child choose your timing. Some children benefit from a long period of notice where by they have plenty of time to process the news. Other parents know a long window of time would lead to a child stewing, building anxiety levels and so a shorter time period within which to process the news works better. Whatever your own child need I encourage you to choose the correct timing for your child.
Have a conclusion or farewell
Closure helps kids as much, possibly even more, than adults. I think it is extremely important to offer kids an opportunity to farewell their friends and teachers and if possible to tie up any loose ends as positively as possible. Even when you are confident the right decision has been made there may still be a natural sadness to the closing of the door. If your school refuses your child the chance to farewell their peers then a get together at your home or a local park is perhaps a better, more positive option.
Prepare for all the feels
Surprise, frustration, sadness, anger. Moving schools is a huge change for children to process. Parents who move their child need to allow the child to feel all the emotions and not punish them for feeling them or expressing them. Often the feelings can build in intensity once they have started at the new school and may be experiencing a mixed bag of emotions. Hang onto the rollercoaster ride which is parenting and loving your kids and just validate those feelings. Kids who have felt powerless in the decision making process to move now need parents who let them be in control of their own emotions.
Limit the list building
Now if you look at parent websites a lot of them will suggest getting the kids to build a list of the things the child is looking forward to at the new school. If the child isn’t keen on moving then this is going to be a spectacularly short list. In addition if you start asking kids to list things they are worried about then you take the lid off Pandora’s box, particularly for sensitive children. Instead ask your child if there is one thing that might be worrying them and agree to work out a solution for the problem as a team with the new school.
Children thrive where they feel connected and valued. Children feel insecure where they feel adrift. Starting school means lots of new faces and names without relational connnection. We can support our kids by helping them build those connections. My daughter’s school has a wonderful buddy program and in her class children were falling over themselves to volunteer to be the ‘buddy’ friend. Not only is a classroom and playground buddy identified to smooth over that transition but the school identifies children who live nearby for walking or riding to and from school. Promote those playdates to support blossoming friendships. Attend transition activities and programs that are offered even if your child is reluctant.
Nurture your child
With moving schools I noticed that my child needed more of me. By this I mean, more attention, more patience, more cuddles, more forgiveness and more humour. You may find that your child needs this extra nurturing and focus while their other foundations feel like they are shifting. If it is possible try to be more present for your child around the move. You might be able to pick them up in the first week instead of after school care. You may need to relax expectations for chores around the home. You may need to sit or lie with them for longer at bedtime to give them a chance to open up and discuss those things that are bothering them. Bump up the nurturing and crank it up even a further notch if your child is still in anger mode.
Get them equipped
Nothing heightens anxiety for kids like worrying about being embarassed. We can support our kids by smoothing the transition as best as possible. Find out what requirements your child’s year level has eg do they need to bring their own pencil case. If the school has a uniform and it is financially possible then make sure your child has a uniform and blends in from day 1. Do they need smock for their art lesson? Library bag to borrow in the library? Hat for playing with friends in the playground?
Familiarise your children
You may be surprised how many changes to a routine children are required to hold in their heads when they move to a new school. Where do they line up? Where do they get picked up from school? What time? By who? Which day do they have specialist subjects? How do they order their lunch? Where do the buses stop? What happens with money and permission notes? Children will have a lot on their plate when they make the change and it is easy for your child to become overloaded and temporarily forgetful. The more answers to these questions you can gather from interviews with the teacher or principal or parent information booklet the better.
Check in with the school
Hopefully with the above supports in place your child will soon find their feet in their new school. However for some students the transition can be rocky or take longer than a parent may have anticipated. A happy settled child is the goal here and so a check in with the classroom teacher after a couple of weeks can be important. This isn’t an academic focused discussion but rather a chance to partner up with the teacher if your child needs more support or attention. If you have concerns or things are not going smoothly then don’t delay approaching the school. Teachers have been involved with transitioning many, many children and often have wonderful tips for parents to try.
We are fortunate that our daughter has settled in smoothly to her new school and her desire “for more friends” has well and truly been achieved. She is a resilient child and is loving her new school despite the initial tears. Moving school can be stressful for children and parents but after all the best indicator of student success at school is engaged, supportive parents. Our kids can’t lose.