Changing schools is often an unwelcome push of the restart button. To most children, it’s a terrifying time heavy with anxiety of what is to come and the pain of letting go of what is comfortable and familiar.
But often, the decision to change schools is inevitable. It could be because of relocation for a parent’s career, it could come from socio-political changes in the country you live in or from a sudden change in your financial status, be it for the better or for the worse.
In a place like the UAE, changing schools is a rather common phenomenon. The floating expat population, career changes and the roots that tie families back to their home countries often cause children to change schools at least once through their schooling years.
With the number of new schools and academic systems being introduced steadily into the education system in the UAE too, parents sometimes see big benefits in choosing to change schools. Here is a useful resource on transfers between schools if you’re making the switch anytime soon.
No matter what the reason, the stressors of adapting to an alien environment still hold, and it’s the children that are left to deal with the day-to-day challenges that come with the change.
The good news is that as parents, you can most certainly help. Some of the biggest challenges include change anxiety, fitting into the new environment and the pressures of adjusting to a new academic system.
Here are a few effective ways that you can help your children cope with these challenges and make changing schools as smooth and positive as possible for them.
Dealing with change anxiety
School is likely a big part of your child’s world. It is their ground for self-discovery, finding their feet socially and a place where they are forming their perspective of the world outside home. So changing schools is unsettling, no doubt. It’s laden with fears and questions. One of the biggest ones being – ‘But Why?’
You can help by answering these questions as clearly and honestly as possible. Focus on the positive outcomes of the change. Help them see the excitement of ‘new’ rather than fear the unknown. Help them build resilience and teach them that change is not all bad at all.
If changing schools is an outcome of relocation, then it also helps to bring order to your new home as quickly as possible. Consider setting up the children’s rooms first, re-establish evening, dinner and bedtime routines that they are used to. Children often thrive on the predictability of daily routine – even adolescents although it might be less obvious with them!
Packing your life into boxes and moving homes is overwhelming for grown-ups as much as it is for the children, and re-establishing order helps to normalize your life, too. Win win.
Social anxiety – What if I don’t fit in?
This is probably one of the most common fears of changing schools. It’s also an extremely delicate problem to handle. Your child’s social comfort or discomfort heavily dictates other aspects of their life at school and at home. Lack of confidence, loneliness or the feeling of not ‘fitting in’ can be devastating to children, just as a positive social setting can help boost academic performance.
You can help by understanding their concerns closely and guiding them rather than interfering in their social lives.
If your children are in primary school and maybe even up to early secondary school, you can engage more actively in school communities and activities, parent get-togethers and so on. At this point, your children are perhaps more open to making friends through your friends. That changes as they enter adolescence.
With teenagers, social anxiety is better dealt with by listening carefully and tuning into their concerns. Be observant and intervene when necessary (bad company is easy to fall into, especially on the cusp of change), but for the most part, guidance serves as a much better approach.
This is also a great opportunity to teach your children to build friendships and relationships that transcend borders. You know those amazing ‘worldly’ people that have moved several times through childhood and have friends everywhere in the world? That’s a wonderful thing to have. It’s definitely a ‘positive’, especially if you can help your children see it sooner rather than later.
It’s also important to stay in touch with old friends – they’re a sanctuary of familiarity, good memories and good feelings. Your children might need some of that through the bad days in a new place.
Coping with a new academic system
New teachers, classroom environments and learning cultures are challenging to deal with. Some students are able to cope with this rather well, while others struggle and see a dip in their academic and extra-curricular performance.
Parents can help by bridging the gap between new school and old. It’s always a good idea to keep a file of academic records, achievements and other relevant details to carry from one school to the next.
Try and meet with the class teacher (for primary school) or the year advisor (secondary school upwards) and orient them to your child. This way, they can meet halfway rather than your child doing all the work to catch up and settle in.
This also helps children to form stronger bonds in the classroom. If they end up developing a few positive teacher-student relationships, they’ll have someone to turn to in an otherwise seemingly hostile environment.
Speak to their teachers regularly. To deal with the academic pressures of a new curriculum, it might help to get your child some tutoring support. taddrees® is a great place to look for quality tutors, especially if you’re looking for tutors in your neighborhood.
We’d like to leave you with a little thought for yourselves here: Parents often over-analyze the outcomes of a big change in their children’s lives.
It helps to familiarize with yourself with the new school environment and settle in yourself. The quicker and easier it is for you to come to terms with all the novelty and let go of your anxieties, the sooner you can transfer that state of Zen to your child.
Be patient and supportive, your child might undergo what seems like a ‘grieving process’ during the adjustment. They’ve just let go of a whole lot of familiarities.
Besides, changing schools really does have many positives. As children cope with change they gain exposure, make new friends easily, tend to become more observant and are mindful of different peoples and cultures. They also have the opportunity to clean the slate and start fresh if they happened to be looking for that kind of a change.
The new environment also opens up their oysters and they gain a realistic perspective on their strengths and weaknesses.
All in all, it’s important for your children to see it’s not that bad at all. We humans are a species designed to adapt. It’s how we thrive in an ever-changing world. In fact, we crave change!
With preparedness, support and a conscious effort to help your children through the change, chances are you’ll both come out of it stronger, wiser and ready for the next adventure.
As always, keep learning.
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