A lone figure stopped in front of the steps of her new high school. She stood alone, palms sweaty, with a glazed look in her eyes. She felt lost, lonely and frightened. I watched from my car and prayed for her. My daughter was the new kid at school.
This year, thousands of Australian children and teens will walk into a new school. Their new year move may be the result of a job change, sale of a home, or a family crisis. They feel like the victims of their parents’ decisions, whether they moved across the city or to a different state.
As parents, we also struggle when we see that our children are affected by our transitions. We watch with a lump in our throats. Our heartbeat quickens as our children encounter the unknown world of a new school. We need a huge dose of wisdom as we seek to help our family cope with their new situation.
Two years have passed since my daughter’s first day at her new school. When I dropped her off this morning I barely had the chance to wish her a "good day." She ran from the car to meet a friend and was making plans for the weekend. Her rugby team is going to the state championships and she’s talking about bringing the trophy back to "her school." The memory of her first day at a new school now serves as a signpost pointing to God’s faithfulness when we were a family in transition.
How can you guide your kids from one end of the anxiety spectrum to the other?
New beginnings start with good endings
Positive transitions begin with good endings. If possible, allow time for your children to say goodbye to their friends, visit favourite places, and drive by their old school. Explain to them that moving causes a sense of loss, but it also brings new beginnings. The things you do in the days before your move prepare your family for new situations.
Some of life’s changes come with little or no warning. Sometimes a move is due to a harmful or negative circumstance, and parents need to be attentive to their children as they navigate this transition. Help them to see your move as the close of one chapter, and the beginning of another.
New beginnings are not easy
The first day of school is a step out of the "no man’s land" between your child’s former school and entrance into a new reality. If possible, contact the office of your child’s new school to see if you can attend an orientation or have a tour before the buzzer rings on the first day. Even viewing the school from a car or seeing a picture of the building on a website is better than leaving the first day to the imagination of your child or teen.
Acknowledge that going to a new school is a stress-filled situation. The challenges your child or teen may include: a sense of isolation in a crowded classroom, eating lunch alone, being left out of conversations, or getting lost while they look for their next class. It’s enough to send anyone’s stress meter to dangerously high levels.
New beginnings produce growth
Let the change in your life be an opportunity for prayer and spiritual growth. Pray for good friendships for your kids and remind them that you’re willing to work with them as they face new situations. Let your children hear you pray for them and admit that you don’t have all the answers.
Remind your children that there are valuable lessons to learn as they enter the world of a new school. Make sure you have time to work through the issues and listen to them in their weeks of adjustment. Each child is unique in the time and way they make transitions. Encourage them that this is an opportunity to trust and experience God’s faithfulness. This is a time to learn skills that will serve both now and through the many transitions of their lives.
Celebrate the first day of school with a special dinner or outing; make it the first step of a new beginning and the passage into good possibilities.