Helping Children Cope with School Transitions
By Leah Davies, M.Ed.
Children report that moving, leaving friends, and changing grades, schools
or classes can cause great anxiety. Transitions for some students result
in academic difficulties, social/emotional problems, decline in self-concept,
poor motivation, decreased attendance, and increased dropout rates. Since
schools are charged with helping children become well-adjusted citizens,
school personnel have an important role in assisting students' adaptation
When children enter a school, they are confronted by standards of behavior, teacher
expectations, and social pressure to fit in with their peers. Children who are
different in any way often have difficulty adjusting to new environments. Hyperactive
and special needs children may find conforming difficult and may require individual
consideration. Children who do not speak the predominant language used at school
have an additional challenge to overcome.
Transitional periods are also opportunities for growth if children have learned
coping skills and are given an opportunity to understand and adapt to their new
environment. Ideally, a transition team is composed of school counselors, teachers,
administrators, parents and students. They collaborate, plan and support student
transitions by acknowledging student concerns and by creating a sense of belonging
in the new environment.
Some strategies for helping children cope with change are as follows:
- Provide parents and students with a clearly written handbook in their
language concerning school regulations, policies, procedures, parent
involvement, classes, study skills, and other details.
- Since many parents can access the Internet, furnish a school website
with basic information. It could include a virtual tour of the school,
procedures for enrolling, registration forms for new students, and
other facts to help children transition more easily.
- Greet visitors with a welcome sign and have student art work displayed
throughout the building. Offer school tours for new students and their
parents by individuals who are enthusiastic and knowledgeable about
the school, classes and activities.
- In the spring preceding a major school move, have the younger students
write questions regarding the new setting. Then ask older students
to participate in a panel discussion of the concerns. Or, have older
students visit each lower classroom to share what the next year will
be like and to answer questions. Various formats may be used, but the
chosen plan needs to provide younger children with an opportunity to
share their fears and to hear encouraging responses to them. Thus,
they can build favorable expectations during the summer months.
- Provide a new school orientation program or open house for children
and parents. Include staff introductions, curriculum and scheduling
information, school procedures, student expectations, disciplinary
actions, and other pertinent policies. A Power Point or video presentation
may be included along with a tour of the school and a question and
- Often student orientation programs occur during an assembly at the
beginning of the school year. Or they may be held for a day or more
prior to school starting. Representatives from clubs and organizations
are asked to describe their group in some unique way. In addition,
an orientation program may incorporate activities that enhance students'
social skills and promote a sense of community. Structure your school
environment to build student cohesiveness through the use of team-teaching
and small group cooperative learning experiences. Using this model,
students cooperate by working together on academic tasks to help themselves
and their peers learn.
- Keep parents informed through newsletters, parent conferences and
other means. Furnish information on ways they can assist in their child's
adaptation to new school situations (see Parent Article Helping
Your Child Cope with School Transitions).
- Teach children positive coping skills to use when dealing with stressful
situations. Have them act out difficult circumstances and problem-solve
ways to help themselves through adversity. Offer programs, activities
and curricula such as the Kelly
Bear C.A.R.E.S. Program for five- to nine-year-old students.
- Create a student monitoring, peer helper or buddy program consisting
of children chosen from various groups who are taught
to be role models for younger children. The training may consist of
one or two days before
school starts or at other times. The children participate
in role plays, exercises, games, and discussions that increase team
and empathy building.
Their roles will vary, but they can include greeting
younger children or new students, conducting school tours, answering
new students to peers, providing social support throughout
the year, and/or mediating peer problems. (See Finding
Solutions Through Peer Mediation.)
- Have school counselors meet with groups of new students to welcome
them. A discussion may include where the students
attended school last, how it felt to leave their
school, what they miss about it, what they
like about the new one, what the school rules are,
how they differ from other school rules, etc. Depending
on the age of the children
and size of the school, counselors may take photos
of new students or have them make an "about me" picture to hang under
a welcome sign. A month later, the pictures may
be returned, thus providing a opportunity
to interact with the children and note how they
- Monitor new student's adaptation and identify those who are struggling.
Refer them for individual counseling or to groups that promote school
adjustment. Besides the traditional methods for helping children learn
coping skills, other ideas may include having them create a handbook
for new students, or write and produce skits or a video designed to
answers questions new students have.
Used by permission of the author, Leah Davies, and selected from the Kelly Bear website [www.kellybear.com]. 10/03
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