By Michelle Perras-Charron
As families enter the last month of summer vacation, many parents begin thinking about their child's new teacher assignment and school supply shopping lists. But for some, summer is strategically the best time to tackle a relocation to a new town -- or even a new state -- as the kids are out of school and disruption can be kept to a minimum. Once the actual move is complete, it's important to support your child when they're the new kid in town by taking advantage of opportunities not only at your child's new school, but also within the local community, which can help ease the transition and create a positive experience for everyone.
Setting up for success at a new school
First and foremost, parents should take advantage of resources at their child's new school. Donna M. Denette, director and co-founder of Children First Enterprises, a non-profit childcare organization in Granby, says parents should tour the school, ask questions, and learn about the philosophy and curriculum.
"The key is to present this new opportunity with confidence and excitement," Denette says. "Do not give your child any reason to be anxious, as they will pattern their response after yours! For them, if you are worried or hesitant, it signals there is something to be afraid of."
Belchertown mom Jennifer Fleischer, who moved state-to-state two times in the past five years with her 9-year-old daughter, echoes Denette's advice.
"When you move, you need to reflect the behavior you expect your child to mirror. If you get out and make friends, so will your child. If you have a successful move, so will your child!" Fleischer says.
Karen Howard moved to Belchertown last summer with her two sons, then 7 and 9. She found reaching out to the school over the summer helpful.
"Ask for a tour of the school with your child before their first day so the school is more familiar and they won't have as much fear of the unknown," she recommends. "Meet with the guidance counselors at the school to help them learn about your child and find the best classroom placements."
Howard also suggests asking school officials if they have any programs for new families. Franklin mom Carrie King says her 14-year-old son will be attending "The High School Experience," a week-long program offered to incoming freshman to help ease the transition to high school. While King's family is not new to town, she is trying to help her son move back into public school after a yearlong absence during which he participated in online schooling.
"It's different anxiety, but anxiety just the same as being new to school," says King, who has already reached out to the school to gather information and have her son take a tour of the building. "I've been trying to have conversations about things to look forward to in an attempt to lift the veil of discomfort."
While trying to introduce your child to a new school, Howard suggests helping him or her keep in touch with their old friends, even if it's only as pen pals.
"It will take time to form new friendships, and you want them to have a social outlet in the meantime," Howard explains. "We reassured our boys they wouldn't lose friends, instead they would just gain new ones. More importantly, we kept that promise." Navigating "the new kid in town" status Another way parents can help children is by simply getting out into the community. Many local libraries host summer reading programs, with planned events geared towards school-aged children over the course of the summer. Signing children up for the summer reading program and attending these fun, family-oriented events can lead to an early introduction to peers and possibly new friendships before school starts.
Howard suggests looking for summer camps or extracurricular activities near the school for this same reason. If your child enjoys sports, enroll them in a sport camp of their choice. If your child is a budding musician, encourage them to join the community band, which typically practices and performs over the course of the summer. These bands are often for all ages, and your child may meet another child with similar interests.
Visiting school playgrounds over the summer is another good way to get out and meet local families, Howard says. If that's not an option, she recommends getting to know your neighbors by taking family walks in the neighborhood and playing outdoors so you have more opportunities to run into those who live around you.
"We were lucky enough to move to a neighborhood with a lot of kids, so just playing outdoors helped a lot," she added. "One day, when we first moved in, our boys were on their bikes and all the neighborhood kids rode over on their bikes to introduce themselves -- there were about 12 bikes in all! The kids made friends and then got invitations over to the neighbors' houses to play. It really just comes down to getting involved in the community and being open to lots of social activities initially." Cementing the home-school connection Once school starts, it's important to allow your child to bond and build trust with their teacher, Denette says.
"The very best thing you can do to support your child is to choose well and build a trusting relationship of mutual respect and support with your child's teacher," she says. "You can remove yourself because you have established trust with the teachers at the school you have chosen. And your child can stay and create bonds because you have found the right place for your child to develop."
Howard recommends parents check in with teachers occasionally to find out how their child is adapting: Are they making new friends? Do they seem content or withdrawn? Does the teacher have any advice to help with the transition?
"Check-ins with the teacher and talking to the boys really helped me gauge how the boys were doing emotionally," Howard says.
Additionally, being involved at your child's school, whether as a classroom helper or as part of a PTO or PTA, can help alleviate anxieties for both parent and child.
"Volunteering a bit of time at your kid's school also helps with the adjustment," Fleischer notes. "By being present at the school you make your kids feel safe."
Howard joined the PTO at her son's new school and found other PTO parents were able to offer excellent advice and resources. She even made a few new friends herself.
"The more you are involved with the school, the more likely you are to build supportive relationships with school staff that can help you identify and resolve transition problems early," Howard says.
Whether they are the new kid in town, or simply transitioning from one school to another within the community, children will naturally experience some anxiety and hesitation. It's important for parents to acknowledge and validate their child's feelings, while modeling a positive attitude.
"Assume that your child is capable. Assume that your child is ready. Assume that your child will have a wonderful experience!" Denette says. "And know that they will because you have done your due diligence in choosing the right place for your child."
Adds Howard: "My son just told me the other day he doesn't feel like the new kid anymore."
Michelle Perras-Charron is a freelance writer and mother to four school-aged boys in Western Mass. A Navy brat and also the wife of a retired Air Force captain, she loves writing about people and all topics related to parenting. She also enjoys running and a strong cup of coffee.