HCA Virginia - August 07, 2019
by Ross Teemant, VP of behavioral health at Tucker Pavilion

Prepare kids to start the year with confidence

Significant changes, such as a new job or move to a new town, can intimidate just about anyone – even adults. So, it’s no surprise that kids going from one stage in school to another have a lot on their minds.

The common thread for each transition – elementary to middle school, middle school to high school and high school to college – is the feeling of being a small fish in a big pond. With a move to a new school, students may experience added pressure with academics, classmates, rules and the logistics of a new environment, such as learning to unlock a locker, changing classes or navigating the cafeteria.

Transitions: breaking it down

Elementary to middle school

Concerns for these students include:

  • Succeeding in more challenging classes
  • Moving from one classroom to multiple classrooms throughout the day
  • Learning the expectations of multiple teachers, versus the one teacher they may have had in elementary school
  • Making friends and fitting in
  • Changing clothes for PE if required

Children of this age are also reaching puberty, bringing heightened emotions, uncertainty, and body and hormonal changes to the mix of potential anxieties.

Middle school to high school

At this stage, early teens now share a campus and perhaps even classes with young adults, the juniors and seniors at school. Rising 9th graders may worry about:

  • Handling a more rigorous academic load
  • Preparing for college with the right mix of classes and extracurriculars
  • Sharing hallways/classrooms with upperclassmen
  • Making friends and fitting in
  • Handling peer pressure

Opening the lines of communication

For parents or guardians of teens who aren’t particularly chatty, it may be hard to tell how the upcoming school transition is affecting them.

Pay attention to changes in behavior. If your child normally comes home and heads straight to his or her room but now comes down and sits on the couch in the family room, that’s a change.

Or vice versa, if your child usually comes home and plops on the couch to chat but now heads up right away to his or her room, that’s different. Mention that you’ve noticed this change and ask if something is bothering them.

Another strategy is to engage the kids in one of their favorite activities – throwing a ball, playing a board game, doing a puzzle. Once their mind is occupied, they will open up and these topics may come up organically in the conversation.

Coping skills

The next step is finding the right words and techniques to encourage your child. Here are some ideas:

Praise children for past successes

Remind them of their strengths and how well they did during their last switch to a new school. Let them know you’re confident they will have the same success.

Visit the school

Drive to school on the same route you (or the bus) plans to take. If your student walks or bikes to school, go with them on the route. Attend open houses so your child can meet teachers, see the classroom and learn their way around the school.

Teach calming techniques

Ask your child to take a deep breath. Have them envision breathing in their favorite color and breathing out their least favorite color.

Seek more help

Some students may need more assistance than their parents or guardians can provide to prepare for the new school year. In those cases, speak to your pediatrician or get in touch with a licensed therapist to pave the way for a successful, happy school year.

Starting at a new school is an exciting time for kids and parents alike. With preparation and conversation about the upcoming transition, it can be a fulfilling, fun new experience.