Coping with the stress of a new school

I’ve been so proud this week to see the new school uniforms on some of my students; to see them growing up. Some are beaming but most look tired! Most kids find change difficult to handle, and changing to a new school must rank as one of the most stressful challenges our young people have to face. Even my most capable students have found it hard to keep up with everything new that they need to remember. It is important to remember how long this feeling of unrest can last – not unlike when we, as adults, change jobs or move house.

So how can we help?

At MagiKats our students have worked throughout the summer to keep their skills well-polished, but a lot of students will not have had this support, and may well have fallen back over the summer break. This can significantly add to the stress of a new school, where there are new teachers to deal with alongside a slew of new topics, as well as the inevitable social pressures. Over the first few weeks students are settling in and teachers are getting to know them, but once the term is in full swing the new topics will come thick and fast! Keep a close eye on your children’s school books and talk to them about the new topics they are working on. Do not be afraid to tackle difficult areas – if they are finding division hard, going over times tables will help; if they are struggling to write a whole page, support the basics by having them write a sentence a day to improve fluency.

The temptation is to think that the first few weeks at a new school are the hardest, but feedback from my students suggests the whole first term is hard. Once the first little while is out of the way, many think that they should be coping and so are reluctant to express their worries. Keep the lines of communication open, as usual, but also trust your instincts: you can tell if your child is ‘off form’. As long as they get dedicated time with you, and a chance to voice their concerns, you will stay informed!

On a practical level, don’t underestimate the drag factor of everything students have to remember at their new school. Help them remember their teachers’ names by putting them up at home, along with the relevant subject, and room number (if applicable). Encourage them to use a diary, calendar, electronic calendar or wall-planner to keep track of their commitments – homework, extra curricula activities, social events, term dates, school events*. They can even use it to help them remember to put everything they need for different days into their school bags. You can also put a copy of their school timetable up at home and encourage them to check it each evening so they can be prepared for the next day.

The most important thing I think parents can do to when their children change schools is be available, dedicating some downtime with each child in which they have the opportunity to talk and be listened to. Try to be sensitive to their worries – something which may seem insignificant to us can be a big deal in children’s eyes – and try not brush them off. Remember that children’s brains don’t work as fast as ours, so allow plenty of answer time if you ask a question. Feelings will take even longer to be expressed!

Although there are no guarantees, I find most of my students are into their stride by the time the Spring term starts, so if you can manage the Autumn term carefully they should be set on a solid path going forwards.

*side note - I have many teenage students who have never been encouraged to use a diary (or equivalent) and I worry about their ability to cope with adult life and working demands without this basic organisational skill!

By Emma Lomas

MagiKats Principal in Guildford, Mytchett and Cobham