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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.”

Mama Drama: Strategies for a Successful New School Transition

Dear Mama Drama:

My eight-year-old daughter is starting a new school this year and I need some ideas to help her with this transition. Last school year was difficult as she struggled with feeling unsupported and misunderstood by her teachers and she often refused to go to school. She also had some difficulties with bullying behavior from her peers, particularly on the playground.

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Understandably, she is anxious about starting a new school year with teachers and peers she doesn’t know. Any ideas you have are greatly appreciated!

~Protective Mama

Dear Protective:

Your daughter will benefit greatly from you being proactive as well as protective. There are many things you can do together to make this new school transition smooth and positive for her.

First, talk with your daughter about her specific worries regarding the new school both with peers and teachers. Make a list and problem solve strategies together. Getting worries out of our head and having a plan for how to handle them can significantly help in decreasing anxiety.

Next, visit the school. Principals and secretaries come back several weeks before teachers and students. Make an appointment for you and your daughter to meet with the principal and have a tour of the school. This is a great time to talk with the principal about your daughters concerns and for you both to ask questions regarding how learning and social difficulties are handled in the school.

If your daughter has an IEP, 504 plan, or other specific needs, be sure to let the new school know. Once teachers are back, contact the staff members who will be supporting these plans and arrange a time to review your daughter’s specific strengths, needs, and supports within the first few weeks of school.

Take your daughter to play at parks in the neighborhood or at the school playground. This will give her an opportunity to meet children from the neighborhood who will be attending school with her as well as to practice social skills with you there to support her.

Read books about bullying to learn new strategies and to help your daughter realize she is not alone in her experiences. Choose one or two strategies she feels comfortable with and role-play different situations so your daughter will gain confidence in using them. Some great books to read with you daughter are The Juice Box Bully by Bob Somson, The Recess Queen by Alexis O’Neill, and My Secret Bully and Just Kidding by Trudy Ludwig. Books you can use a resources to support her are Words will Never Hurt Me by Sally Northway Ogden, Nobody Likes Me, Everybody Hates Me by Michele Borba, and The Unwritten Rules of Friendship by Natalie Madorsky Elman and Eileen Kennedy-Moore.

If your daughter needs help with other social skills, talk with the school social worker, counselor, or psychologist about a social skills group that can support her in developing more effective friendship skills, assertiveness, and other social emotional skills that will help school be a positive place for her.

Finally, continue to be proactive by meeting her teachers and communicating with them regularly about both positive experiences and concerns that need to be addressed. Teachers need to hear what things are working as well as what is not. Most teachers are comfortable with emailing parents, which can make this less time consuming for all parties.

It can be tricky to find the balance between being supportive and being a helicopter parent. Encourage your daughter to address her concerns with adults in the building as much as possible, but be available to help her do so as needed. Trust your daughter to grow in these skills with your support, but also trust your gut about when to step in and advocate for her.

Share your new school transition and support ideas.