Switching schools is an exciting time for any child and family. As a process, switching schools brings with it so many opportunities—from academic, athletic, and extracurricular opportunities to new friendships and everything in between.
But it makes sense that switching schools can also bring a bit of anxiety: It’s a big change, and big changes are often accompanied by anxiety, even if the change is a great one like moving to a great new school.
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Below, we take a look at four of the most common reasons that middle and high school students might struggle when changing schools and offer some advice that parents can use to make the transition a little bit easier.
1. Feeling like an “outsider”
Feeling like an outsider is a completely normal part of the transition process and is something that most people will feel at least once in their life—either when switching to a new school or, as an adult, to a new job or town. Though it certainly isn’t fun in the moment, the good news is that it always passes. Simply put, you can’t be “new” forever!
What parents can do to help: If it is possible, parents should aim to time their child’s transition to the new school so that it coincides with the beginning of the school year. Because the beginning of the year is a natural transition period, it is a time when new friendships are often formed and when social groups are not yet firmly in place, which makes it easier for new kids to make new friends and avoid “outsider” status.
2. Missing out on a beloved activity or team
Most students have at least one activity that they absolutely love to do, whether it is a team, a school club, or volunteer work. Because switching schools also typically means giving up these activities, it can be difficult on students to give up their most favorite activities and groups.
What parents can do to help: There are a number of ways that parents can help when it comes to this:
- If your child is an athlete, it is important to keep in mind that many school sports are settled at the beginning of the school year, which again makes timing important. If possible, parents should speak to coaches to determine what those important dates are and try to time the transition so that your child will be able to compete/try out.
- If you cannot time the transition to these dates, still speak to the coaches. Exceptions are often made in the case of transfer students.
- If your child loves a particular club or other activity at their current school, speak to school faculty to find out if there is a similar club at the new school.
3. Missing old friendships
Missing old friends is probably the most difficult part of transferring to a new school for most students. When you’re used to seeing your best and oldest friends every day as a part of school, going to a new school and missing them can be a very sad realization, even as you begin to make new friends.
What parents can do to help: The best way that parents can help their children cope with missing their old friendships is to facilitate out-of-school meetups and activities so that their children can catch up with friends from their old school. This becomes less important once your child is old enough to drive, since they then have the agency to plan their own schedules, etc., but is especially important for younger children who do not yet drive.
Was the school transfer caused by a cross-country move, making in-person meetups impossible? Between social media and today’s various technologies, it’s easier than ever to stay up-to-date with friends even at a distance.
4. Difficulties with school work
School curricula can vary widely, and students within one school may learn at different paces. This means that a child may move from a school that is ahead of them in the year’s material, or it might mean that a child moves from a school that has not yet covered certain material. Either of these scenarios can lead to difficulties with learning and disengagement, but the challenges of shifting from one school’s curriculum to another’s can be mitigated.
What parents can do to help: When looking at a new school, parents should inquire about the specifics of the curriculum to identify places where their child will experience repetition or where their child may need support. If you notice that your child is struggling to catch up to their classmates, you should speak with your child’s teachers to determine if there are any opportunities for extra help. Staying after school, finding a tutor, and asking for additional at-home assignments can go far in closing the gap.
If, on the other hand, you notice that your child is disengaged or beyond their new class, ask the teachers if there are opportunities for work that delves deeper into the subject matter so that your child does not become bored or disengaged in school. It can actually be quite enriching to see material or read a book a second time as long as the teacher is guiding engagement beyond what the child may have already done in the previous school.
Identifying Problems Requires Communication
Even the most well-adjusted, sociable children might struggle a bit when transitioning to a new middle or high school, but the good news is that most of the issues are things that can easily be resolved—as long as parents are aware of the issues.
That’s why it is incredibly important that your child knows that they can always speak with you about their anxieties, fears, and concerns. By simply ensuring that there is an open flow of communication, parents can ease a lot of worries in their children as they embark on switching schools.