But it’s also quite common for students to change schools at other times, as families relocate or parents take advantage of options to switch schools. Since each state tracks the data differently — if they track it at all — it’s hard to say just how many K-12 students across the country transfer schools each year. But in some districts as many as one in four students will transfer to a new school from one year to the next.
While not all moves are bad, research suggests that these types of school changes can have a profound impact on academic achievement, as well as social and emotional development.
“When you change schools in the middle of the school year, you have to forge new relationships with your classmates, your teachers and the school staff,” says Patrick Gill, a senior research analyst at Rice University‘s Kinder Institute for Urban Research in Texas, which published a report on K-12 student mobility in Texas this year.
Many children feel a bit lost when they’re taken out of one school and enrolled in another. But parents can help ease the transition, Gill says.
Here are some strategies to help your child get adjusted after moving to a new school.
Get in Touch With Their Educators
If your child is the new kid in class this year, you’ll want to communicate with the teacher early on, so the teacher can start getting to know your child and providing support right away in the classroom.
“Parents know their students better than any teacher, especially a teacher that’s never met their child before,” Gill says.
It’s particularly important to talk to your child’s new teacher about any special accommodations or help your child received in the old school. For example, children who had an Individualized Education Program should be able to receive similar accommodations at their new school.
Ian Levy, a former high school counselor and the director of the school counseling program at Manhattan College in New York, says a student’s school counselor is also an important resource. Reach out to give the counselor a sense of your child’s interests and personality.
Because children may feel emotional about the move, the school counselor can help them process these feelings while also helping them integrate into the school, Levy says. And if there are other students who also transferred recently, the counselor can put their families in touch so the students can bond over being new kids together.
[Read: What Is a Magnet School?]
Set Up Social Gatherings
In addition to any academic adjustments, children who are transferring to a new school have to deal with the prospect of forming a completely different social group. Regine Galanti, a childhood anxiety specialist and the director of Long Island Behavioral Psychology in New York, says parents should try to put in a little extra legwork to help their child make friends.
“Parents will often say ‘Hey, invite your friends over,’ but that’s an ineffective strategy here because the kid doesn’t have any friends yet,” she says, noting that it’s important for parents to take a bit more initiative.
She recommends that parents try to network with families at their child’s new school. By setting up gatherings with other families, parents can help their child get to know other kids. And this helps the parents get involved in the new environment as well.
Find Extracurricular Activities
If coordinating your own social gatherings is tricky, extracurricular activities are a more structured alternative that can also help your child get to know other students.
“Parents can be advocates for joining extracurricular activities that are aligned with the interests that the student has,” Levy says. “I think that’s one of the best ways to build relationships, because it’s organic, and you’re not forcing things — you’re just doing something you like.”
Galanti says it’s typically easier for students to bond together over a shared interest or experience than more open-ended gatherings like family barbecues or class parties. Encouraging children to participate in clubs or teams that match with their interests can help them find a sense of community at their new school.
Talk About the Move With Your Child
Oftentimes, Galanti says, parents want to “sweep the problem under the rug” and act like nothing’s changed. Parents may be particularly inclined to do this after moves that are relatively small, within the same school district.
“Acknowledge that it might be hard and that that’s OK,” she says. “That is sometimes hard for parents because we just want to protect our kids and say that it’s going to be good.”
Students often transfer schools for stressful and anxiety-inducing reasons, such as a family member losing a job or parents going through a divorce. In such cases, Levy says the underlying reason for the school change might be more difficult for the child to process than the actual school transition itself. Checking in with your child can help you identify whether any struggles are with the new school or if that’s a secondary factor in a broader grieving process.
While it might make for a tough conversation with your child, talking things through can give you a better idea of how your child is adjusting to the new environment, while also allowing a space for processing the transition openly. Additionally, Galanti says that observing your child’s emotional state over time is an important way to determine whether or not there’s something more serious at play that could require the evaluation of a child psychologist.
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