By Debra Collins, Family therapist
Our third-grader is having a great deal of trouble adjusting to our recent move. We left a home where he had always lived and moved to a neighboring state when my husband took a new job. He is having a very hard time adjusting and has not had much success making friends at the new school.
He says he loves his teacher and likes the school. But now he doesn't want to go. He looks for reasons to stay home and avoid it all together.
He has always done very well in school, and his old school was going to test him for its gifted program. He has never enjoyed team activities, and sports are of no interest. We have put him in the school's Cub Scout pack. He avoids interaction with the kids and stays close to his dad or me during the meetings. He has never been real social, but things are much worse here. Any ideas on what we can do to help him?
Generally children adjust better when given as much preparation as possible, especially those who are more introverted, which may be your son's issue. In the future, introducing him to the new environments, before a move, might be helpful. Even if you may have done that, some children are worriers or slow to adjust.
Avoid the urge to make him feel better by overemphasizing how great the move is. Let him explore his sad feelings. He can honor his past by writing a story, drawing pictures or making a scrapbook with all of his familiar places. You can begin to explore his current situation by helping him determine what is "the same and different" about his life now. Because he is afraid, he may not recognize the ways in which his new life is similar to his old one. Discovering those similarities may be comforting.
You say, "He loves his teacher and likes his school." What about her and the school does he like? What things doesn't he like? What are some possible solutions? If he has trouble developing peer relationships, see if the teacher can assign him a "classroom buddy." He may be better able to tolerate the support from one child rather than a group. Ask the teacher for ideas and make sure he is academically stimulated.
It is tempting, when you see your son's unhappiness, to let him stay home from school. But this just reinforces his difficulties and delays his ability to learn coping skills. Explore whether your son is concerned about being away from you and your husband while he's at school. New home life situations can trigger feelings of being unsafe.
A school counselor might also be able to offer some guidance and community resources.
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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