By Erik J. Martin, CTW Features
They say moving to a new home is among the most stressful and complicated events you can experience. With so many items to mark off on your checklist and a myriad of emotions swirling around the relocation, adults can often feel overwhelmed. But at least most grown-ups have the tools to emotionally process and organize practically for this transition.
If you have children, however, the move is going to be extra challenging – especially for kids transferring to a new school.
“Transitions are a natural part of life but can be particularly hard for children. The younger the child, the harder these transitions can be,” explains Dr. Ryan Sultan, a child psychologist and director of the Integrative Psych and Mental Health Informatics Lab at Columbia University in New York City. “Children must adapt to a new environment, make new friends and adjust to a different curriculum in school, all while their parents are likely consumed with the logistics of the move. Mom and dad may not be able to provide as much support as they usually would, leading to a feeling of uncertainty, which can be scary for kids.”
Crystal Courtright, a licensed educational psychologist in Roseville, California, echoes those thoughts.
“Moving and changing schools mid-year can be tricky for children and teens, especially when the move is due to factors outside of the family’s control, such as a job relocation,” she says.
To best prime for the relocation and prepare your offspring, it is recommended to follow best practices and talk about the move early on.
“Let your child know as soon as you are certain that you are moving that you will be relocating to a new place,” advises Courtright. “Consider your child’s developmental level when sharing news about the move. Expect your child to have mixed emotions. Validate these feelings for them and let them know whatever they feel is normal.”
Youngsters may benefit from reading books about moving or changes to help give them words to use about the move, such as Berenstain Bears Moving Day, she adds. Older kids may benefit from gathering information from existing friends, including email addresses, phone numbers and addresses so they can stay in touch.
“Let your children express their feelings without rushing them through their emotions. They might be really sad, worried or angry,” notes Tina Hamilton, a parent coach in Annapolis, Maryland who supports parents in deepening their connection with their children. “Some kids won’t want to talk about their emotions, and that’s okay. Be sure they know that what they feel is normal, and you are open to talk when they’re ready.”
Hamilton encourages parents to wait to move until summer break if possible.
“Moving mid-year is a disruption to the child’s education in a way that can have long-term effects,” she cautions. “Waiting until the summer gives children time to get acquainted with their new town and neighborhood before having to focus on and be present in a classroom full of new faces.”
Ideally, you should allow your child to have input into what kind of next home and location you will choose and which school they will go to, suggests Nick Valentino, vice president of Market Operations for Bellhop.
“Start the enrollment process for your child’s new school as soon as you possibly can, which will give you plenty of time to deal with requests for records, test scores and more,” Valentino says.
Be prepared to provide proof of your new residence/address as well as your child’s birth certificate, immunization and health records, education records and assessment reports (if applicable), report cards, and state/district test results if requested.
“If your child has a 504 plan or an individualized education program (IEP), ask for the case manager’s email address and contact them right away,” Courtright says.
Additionally, reach out to the new school to learn more about the curriculum, and if possible, communicate with your child’s new teachers.
“Connect with the school’s learning specialist or guidance counselor about transitional academic support they might be able to provide or recommend, as well,” Hamilton continues.
Also, attempt to visit the school with your child present to familiarize them with the new environment and ease their anxiety, Sultan suggests.
Above all, remember that your patience, understanding, and open communication is apparent will make a big difference.
“These qualities will be key to helping your child adjust to this new chapter in their lives,” says Sultan.