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Help my child adjust to a new school after a separation

By Dr. Stacie Bunning, clinical psychologist

Question:

How do I help my daughter adjust to a new school after a separation? I am a newly separated, single mom of a 6-year-old. Unfortunately, as well as dealing with the separation, we are moving and she will have to start a new school. Do you have any advice for this transition?

Answer:

Young children are creatures of habit who thrive on predictability and security. Any disruption in their usual routine can throw them off and lead to changes in mood, attitude and behavior. Going to a new school is one such change, and you might find that your daughter feels scared, shy, angry, worried or sad when the time actually comes. Her adjustment will be compounded by the fact that she is already dealing with difficult feelings having to do with your separation.

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to ease her transition to the new school:

  1. Try to ensure that the change occurs at the start of a new school year, when all students will be going into new classrooms with different teachers. In addition, there will be other new students starting too.
  2. Talk to the principal and the school counselor about your situation. Ask for suggestions for making the transition as positive as possible. Ask about the possibility of having a buddy from her new class assigned to show her the ropes the first week.
  3. Be positive when talking about the new school — point out that she’ll be learning new things and meeting new friends. Remind her about how easily she made friends in other situations, such as in kindergarten.
  4. Take your daughter to her new school a few times before the first day of school. Arrange for her to have a tour of the school. In addition to her new classroom, make sure she sees the playground equipment, the art room and the lunchroom (kid favorites).
  5. Look into available summertime extracurricular activities through the school or a local church that might enable your little girl to meet some of her future classmates, such as soccer, dance or Brownies.
  6. Finally, here are some children’s books that might help: First Day Jitters, by Julie Danneberg, and The Bugville Critters Go to School, by Robert Stanek.

Dr. Stacie Bunning is a licensed clinical psychologist in the St. Louis area. She has worked with children, adolescents, and their families in a variety of clinical settings for 20 years. Bunning also teaches courses in child psychology, adolescent psychology, and human development at Maryville University in St. Louis.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

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