This fall semester, my husband took a sabbatical leave from the university where he teaches in Michigan and moved us all the way across the country to Utah. The girls have been in school for almost three weeks now, and it has not been easy for them, though they have been extremely courageous in this situation. I don't know if the fact that we are not here permanently has made it easier or harder, but it is what it is and I have learned quite a bit as a parent as we've navigated the last month.
Here are 9 tips that I've come up with that have helped us and continue to help us during this transition time.
1. Listen and Communicate
If your kids are anything like mine are, they will put on a brave face and not say too much about how they are struggling. Then it will suddenly bubble to the surface and they will break down—this happened with each of my girls during the first week of school. When they do have that breakdown, just listen. Hear them out and don't try to fix it all right now. Besides, they don't even want you to fix it, they just want you to understand how they feel. It's easier for them to stay courageous when they feel understood.
Each child handles things a bit differently, too. Talking to your kids will help you really have a grip on how they are handling their school day. Knowing their temperament and how they usually handle hard things will help you to understand them even better. Mostly just listen.
2. Keep Family Tradition Alive
My girls love our family traditions. I think that one of the reasons is because they know what to expect and have something to look forward to at specific times each year. If you have back-to-school traditions, make sure you keep them alive during these difficult transitions.
Our favorite back-to-school tradition is having a feast the night before and introducing a new family theme.
If you don't already have back-to-school traditions, this would be an excellent time to start one! Our feast was started for just that reason—we had just moved to Michigan and I wanted to help my girls get really excited about starting at a new school in a new place. It's definitely become one of our favorite traditions of the year!
See this year's back-to-school feast and family theme here: 2016-17 Feast and Theme
See all of our past feasts here: Back-to-School Feasts and Family Themes
3. Get Familiar With the School Early
We had some good opportunities to go to all three schools (I have a junior, an 8th grader, and a 5th grader) before school started during the process of getting the girls registered. It was especially nice because I took each child to her new school separately, and we took a lot of time finding their classes, opening their lockers, checking out the school facilities, and more. I wanted them to feel as familiar as possible with the school before the first day.
I actually spent about 2 hours in the high school with Bria and 3 hours in the junior high with Chloe. I was amazed at how much time they wanted to spend with the process, but I didn't mind at all. This was about making things easier for them (even though my feet hurt by the time we were done!).
4. Encourage Involvement
Get your kids signed up for all the things they loved doing at their old school, and don't take no for an answer. The best way to meet new people and make friends is through sports and extracurricular activities.
While I sometimes wish that I didn't sign them up for everything—we are already in the thick of soccer and music lessons and dance—I'm glad I did. It really is making the adjustment easier for them. Chloe is thankful for her soccer team friends in the halls of the junior high and Bria feels more comfortable talking to orchestra people, so she's glad she has orchestra to do that!
Communicate with them and be sure you're not pushing them into more than they can handle, but don't let them get away with not doing anything. Bria usually runs cross country in Michigan, but was really adamant about not doing it here. We decided not to push it—mostly because the team had been practicing for a month already when we arrived in town and she wasn't comfortable joining late. Instead, she's doing orchestra, and that's just fine.
There's nothing like a new school and a new place to try something brand new. If there's something that's offered at the new school or in your new area that your child has always wanted to try, encourage them to try it!
Chloe was excited to see that ballroom dance is on the curriculum at her new junior high school and she is absolutely loving it. It's fun for me to see what a great time she's having and I'm thankful that she took the opportunity while she has it.
5. Make Family a PriorityMy mom always used to tell us that "friends come and go, but family is forever" and now I say it to my own children. Never is this more true than when you suddenly find yourself in a new place where you know nobody but your family. Make sure that in the craziness of moving that you take time to not only keep up with your family traditions, but that you are really spending quality time together.
Home is going to be a refuge for your children more than ever as they are adjusting to a new place, so make it a refuge. Their siblings are going to be their best friends and confidantes during this time, which is actually a wonderful thing! Sometimes friends get in the way of that, so this is a great time to really let your children rely on you and on each other.
6. Establish a Routine
It really doesn't matter if you're in a new school or not, routine matters! But I think it's especially important when the upheaval of being in an unfamiliar environment happens.
Make sure you're clear with your children about what is expected of them this school year: what time they are to wake up, what their chore responsibilities are, when they should do homework, etc. And then make sure you follow through. Children and teens need that structure—it actually helps them to feel more comfortable because they know what to expect.
I am not as good with this one as I know I should be, but I am working on it.
7. Keep up With Old Friends While Making New Ones
In this day and age, just because you move away doesn't mean you should have to lose contact with your old friends. Encourage your kids to keep up with them so they don't feel like they suddenly have no friends (except their family, of course!). My teenagers have enjoyed texting their friends and Sophia has been FaceTiming her friends fairly regularly—technology is awesome!
While they definitely should stay in touch with their old friends, keep encouraging them to make new ones in their new place.
8. Stay Positive
The first week of school was just plain hard for my girls. There were lots of tears and a few emotional outbursts. While it broke my heart, I knew that I couldn't get bogged down it. I have to stay positive for them. I pray for them and with them, we talk about how to make friends, I remind them of all the positive things about their schools and the new city we live in.
I still listen and seek to understand their feelings (see #1), but I do my darnedest to help them also see the good in the situation. To make lemonade out of lemons, if you will.
9. Be Patient
Finally, be patient. It gets better, it really does, but before it gets better it will be hard. Your child will probably be more moody or snappy than usual. It may take several weeks or even a few months, I don't know yet, but right now my kids are still having a bit of a difficult time with the transition. Sophia came home today and told me that she is bonding with friends at school finally, but my teenagers aren't feeling it quite yet.
But I'm being patient. I know it will happen!
Even as you do all of these things, keep watching your kids closely to be sure their adjustment is going well. If you notice behavior that concerns you, you may want to talk to their teachers and possibly even your family doctor about the stress and/or depression they are feeling.
P.S. This post was a good way for me to sneak in the girls' first day of school photos! I hope you enjoyed seeing them—Bria is a junior, Chloe is in 8th grade, and Sophia is in 5th grade.
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