As this school year winds down, many parents will strive to find closure at their current school and prepare their children for a new school. Changing schools can be stressful, but closure is key to the transition. Ending the year with strong friendships, a close bond with teachers, and positive learning experience is very important for many reasons, chief among them it generates confidence that the next year will be as good or better than the previous one.
Step One: Telling Your Child about His / Her New School
It’s important to let your child know that they are leaving so that they can find some closure. How you do this depends on their age.
If your child is a preschooler…
Their concept of time is “at the moment” so they won’t truly grasp what this transition means. You may choose to wait until right before school starts before letting them know.
If your child is older…
- Make sure you deliver the news at the right time and place. Do it when you have your child’s attention and when you both have time for the conversation to linger. In other words, don’t do it right before you drop off your son, say, at a party when he will be distracted, and you will be rushed. Make sure you are alone, it is quiet, and you have time to get into the details.
- Realize that how you tell your child is just as important as what you tell your child. Children take their cues from their parents so be sure to convey your excitement and your confidence in the “fit” of the new school. Explain why you know the school is great for him – what are the programs (sports, arts, or academics) that you think he will like? What will your child find fun? Tell a story about what you saw in the classrooms when you visited or a great conversation with a teacher. Are any of your child’s friends or acquaintances attending? That is a great piece of information to share.
- Be sure to make the conversation a two-way street; leaving time for questions and answering them openly and honestly. If your child is not the type to ask questions off the bat, anticipate your child’s concerns and address them head-on with a positive outlook so your child has no doubt why you made the choice you did.
- Accept that there may be some emotion from your child – even tears. Don’t get angry or try to talk him out of his sadness. The transition can be hard for some. Your job is to support him through the change, stay positive, and assure him you are confident in him!
Step 2: End the Year on a High Note
The end of a school year can be emotional for both child and parent. There may be sadness about leaving or disappointment/anger about things that did or didn’t happen for your child. Here are some suggestions for how to ensure your child looks back on the year with good memories.
- Focus on the positive. Even if your child did not have a great year, chances are that there were some positive aspects to the experience. Spend some time talking about the things you appreciated. If your child had a favorite teacher, there are many ways to “play up” the relationship – from baking a special dessert for the last day of school, writing the teacher a note, or even inviting that teacher and a few school friends over during the summer for tea or a brief visit. One family I know keeps in touch with a favorite teacher the child had three years ago! Staying connected to a teacher can ease a child’s anxiety and foster good memories about a prior school.
- Make saying goodbye fun, and not so serious! Here are some of my favorite ideas:
- Bring a cake or cupcakes the last week of school as a goodbye treat (you could even make the treats together in the kitchen to get your child more involved)
- Arrange a trip to the park or a special lunch with a few friends over the summer. One family that I know emailed their child’s entire class and invited them to Colorado over a month of the summer!
- Have a family celebration at your child’s favorite restaurant
- Make or buy something that all your child’s classmates can sign, like a stuffed animal, a plate, or a poster that you can frame in your child’s room. They could also write down their email address or home address for over-the-summer letters and emails!
- If your child attends camps over the summer, pick a few of your child’s friends, and send your child’s schedule to their moms. Moms are always looking for summer ideas, and they may sign up their child for the same activity, giving your child an instant set of friends at camp!
The key is to deliver the news about your child’s new school in a positive way, and make the last few weeks fun!
Check back for the next post in the series – Starting a New School.
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