My son is 11 and about to start at a new school. He’s incredibly nervous and worried because he won’t know anybody at all (we are new to the region) and he is already dissolving into floods of tears at the mere mention of it. Any ways I might be able to help make it easier for him?
This is a situation I see a lot at this time of year! Transition is not an easy process for anyone, even adults often struggle with new environments and challenges, so I want to reassure you, your son’s behaviour is perfectly normal.
Fear of the unknown often looms larger in the mind than the reality ends up proving to be – and this can feel overwhelming, especially for children as they don’t have a wealth of life experiences.
It can also make parents feel anxious, which in turn can feed the child’s nerves and the whole worry takes on ever greater significance. However, there is much you will be able to do to help smooth the path both before and during those first few days when your son is settling in.
Building his confidence and resilience is going to be crucial, so that he is able to bounce back if he encounters some initial bumps in the road. Giving your child age appropriate responsibilities is an excellent way to underpin that greater maturity. All too often I see parents doing far too much for their kids and this does nothing to prepare them for adult life. Quite the opposite in fact. It saps the child’s reserves of resilience, so that learned helplessness is the default setting.
Practical life skills and social skills are just as important as academic skills if we are going to create rounded individuals. So, think about giving your son certain responsibilities that you expect to be fulfilled. Then, in his first few days of school, when he gets his new timetable, look at it together and work out what needs to be done by him to make sure he stays on track. Simple things like him packing his school bag the night before will help to prevent anxious mornings spent looking for books and equipment. It will create good lifelong organisational habits, so establishing good routines is a must.
Praise will also be the natural follow on from this. Catch him doing things well and point them out. We all need praise, it’s a great motivator and it helps form a strong core belief in ourselves. Given judiciously, it’s the fuel that drives us on to feel we can be successful.
Of course, friendships are very important to children and often something they worry about more than anything else. You can support your son in forming positive connections by teaching him how he might open a conversation with someone new. Just by talking to him about the first few days and what he is likely to experience, you can help to prepare and reassure him that the majority of the other new students will be feeling nervous too.
Setting alarms, getting up earlier in the week before, making sure your son has the right equipment will all help him feel prepared.
Finally, there is no substitute for talking. Acknowledge that he feels fear, reassure him it’s normal and then chat to him positively about all of the good things the future holds.