Paving the way

May 05,2011
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

As I mentioned several posts back, T. will be switching schools next year. We are so excited about her new school, and the opportunities it will provide T., but we've felt the burden of carrying around the news, knowing that while she will be excited about this school, leaving her current school will make her sad. T. is a sunny, flexible, social child, but she often buries her burdens, and I wanted to tread carefully. What complicates the situation is that T. is content at her current school and the reasons we're making the switch are not really reasons that T. would appreciate right now. While I do believe that parents are ultimately the ones responsible for making the best decisions they can for their children, I also believe that the person affected by the school change--the child--needs to be happy with the new school, and to understand why the change was made so that she feels invested in the experience. if your child is unhappy with the prospect of changing schools, she will probably have trouble succeeding there.  We haven't been so worried about whether or not T. will be happy at her new school, but we have been waiting for the right time to tell her about it.

As it turned out, the right time came around a few nights ago, after dinner. She shed a few tears (my heart fell and I backpedalled crazily in my head: had we made a bad choice? Had we broken her heart?), but then she brightened up quickly. It was a Sunday evening, so we loaded the kids up and drove straight to the school, where L. and T. played on the playground, and T. had a good time peeking into the school windows. Two days later we took her to a cultural dance performance at her new school, where she immediately inserted herself into the first grade class and watched the performance with them. We were then given a personal tour of the place--our second tour, but T.'s first.  We'll keep an eye out for future events, and make sure we visit the school playground frequently over the summer.

So what is my advice if your child will be switching schools? Be strong and confident as you present the news. Expect tears, but understand that they don't mean you've made a terrible choice as a parent. Try not to unfavorably compare the schools. While it might be tempting to point out the negatives about your child's current school, this might make her feel badly about her time there, and contradict her own impressions of the place, throwing her trust in your judgment. Try and time the news so you can take your child to see her new school as soon as possible. If you can't physically visit the school, give your child a virtual "tour" so that she can visualize the place. Change is unsettling for most kids, even the most flexible ones. Being able to conceptualize the new school in concrete ways can help your child process the experience. T. was so excited to get a personal tour, and I could tell she was already feeling connected with her new school. Follow her lead: if she feels like talking about her new school, let her talk. But if she doesn't, respect that and know that she might still need more time to process it all. You've had more time to get used to the news, after all.

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Of course, I wouldn't be me if I didn't turn to the library for books to help with this latest transition in T.'s life. I found a small handful of promising books geared towards helping kids deal with any new school jitters. Here's a short list:

First Day Jitters, by Julie Dannenberg

I also found this one by the same author and I grabbed it as well. Maybe it would help T. think about any last day jitters as well?

This book is less about the move to a new school (although it's in there) and more about teaching children the power of loving yourself for who you are, no matter how many bullies, or unfriendly faces try to tell you otherwise.

And, of course, a few of the books in the American Girl series deal with transitions and school changes. 

Let me know if you have other recommendations!