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Moving On Up: Helping Your Child Transition to a New Grade or School

Moving On Up: Helping Your Child Transition to a New Grade or School

When it comes to the first day of a new grade level or new school, some children may have fears to overcome. We asked the pediatric experts at Children’s Hospital Colorado how parents can help facilitate a smooth transition.

Kindergarten to elementary school

Your child has already experienced leaving the comforts of home while attending daycare, pre-kindergarten and kindergarten. However, accepting more responsibilities, learning in a more structured environment and making the transition to being a full-fledged “student” can be an emotional time for young children. The best way to prepare your child for elementary school while avoiding separation anxiety is through “behavior rehearsal.”

“Before the first day of school, play out different scenarios so your child has his or her lines down, so to speak,” said Jeffrey Dolgan, PhD, Senior Psychologist at Children’s Colorado. “Set up a mock class at home and pretend to be the teacher. Take an imaginary bus ride and go over different things your child can say to break the ice with other students.”

Stay organized and relaxed. Write down important information, such as what time the school day starts and ends, the time for lunch period, any enrichment activities such as music and art, your child’s room number, and teachers’ names. Make sure your child knows when and where to meet you after school. Most importantly, don’t let your anxiety set the tone for the first day.

“Kids are barometers for their parents’ emotions,” Dr. Dolgan said. “If you’re anxious, your child will mimic that anxiety.”

Elementary school to middle school

As your child begins to establish a social identity after advancing to middle school, you may notice an increase in behavioral issues, which may come to as a result of new peers, adapting to a new environment or overall stress.

“This is often the hardest transition for shy children,” Dr. Dolgan said. “This is the time when social structures and cliques really come into play. Middle-school children are faced with the competing trends of conformity — ‘be like us,’ and nonconformity — ‘be yourself.’”

It’s important for your child to establish a group of close friends during this time. While you shouldn’t play matchmaker for your child, try to encourage relationships with friends who are supportive and loyal and discourage relationships with overly sarcastic or aggressive peers.

Middle school to high school

Going into ninth grade, your child will be faced with more pressure all around — peer pressure, academic pressure, athletic pressure and so on. He or she will continue to explore roles and identities, including sexual identity. In terms of talking to your child about sexuality, it is important to avoid an outdated discussion about birds and bees. Rather, try to instill a strong value system and provide information while developing a relationship with your child that makes him or her feel comfortable coming to you with questions or concerns.

“Ninth grade is a time when teenagers are exposed to new experiences and hear a lot of conflicting ideas from peers,” Dr. Dolgan said. “It’s your job as parents to be an open door for nonjudgmental listening.”

Talk to your child’s primary care provider if your child is having trouble adjusting in school.

Get more back-to-school tips from Children’s Hospital Colorado:


Mile High Mamas
Author: Mile High Mamas

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  1. all my kids started new schools so anxiety is palpable. good advice.

  2. So glad we’re in a K-8. Will only have to make the school transition once…middle school is tough enough as it is.

  3. Reading this, I feel so lucky to teach at a school ( where students aren’t grouped by age, where they determine the structure, and where respect and empowerment are the norm. So many of the stresses described in this article are eliminated when you just treat children like full-fledged, capable individuals. In fact, our students tell us that summer and other breaks last too long. Of course we all want to support our kids and help prepare them for the challenges they face. But it’s important to realize that the more we do for them, the less they learn to do for themselves.

  4. Thanks for the tips, Dex starts middle school soon. MIDDLE SCHOOL!

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