For kids, starting a new school is often one of the most stressful parts of moving. Transitioning schools in a new country can be even more tricky. While this can be a difficult phase for kids and teens, you can help make it easier with good preparation, communication, and a healthy dose of encouragement. Here are some tips to help ease the transition:
In this article:
- Prepare your kids to accept other cultures
- Communicate with your kids in English or French
- Encourage your kids to join extracurricular activities
- Have open conversations with your kids
- Tour your kids’ new school
- Understand what their new routine will look like
- Read books with your children about moving and making new friends
- Allow your child to stay in touch with friends from their home country
Canada is a very diverse country and your child will likely attend school with other kids from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds, religions, and cultural traditions. If they aren’t already used to interacting with a diverse group of peers, the time to prepare them is before they step into their new classroom. Here are some suggestions:
- Respond openly to your kids’ questions about people who look or act differently – even if you’re not entirely sure what to say. Children can interpret a lack of response to mean it’s wrong or unacceptable to talk about differences.
- Model the types of behaviours and attitudes you want your kids and teens to develop. They’re always watching and listening, so be aware of any actions or words that may discourage accepting differences or promote stereotypes.
- Similarly, don’t allow other family members or friends to make racist or prejudicial remarks without intervening. This will help your kids understand what’s acceptable and also how to respectfully stand up for others.
- Introduce your children to concepts of race, bias, stereotyping, and discrimination and have ongoing open conversations about these topics.
- Expose your kids and teens to role models from other cultures, whether in person or through the media. Some ideas: attending diverse community events, viewing international sports games together, or reading books by diverse authors.
At their new school, your kids will be expected to learn and communicate in English and French. While most schools offer English as a Second Language (ESL) program, their transition will be much smoother both academically and socially if they have a head start. Don’t worry if you’re not fluent, children can also absorb new languages through audio recordings, TV shows and movies, and age-appropriate books. Make sure to look into and request ESL resources before your child’s first day of school.
In Canada, activities outside the classroom can be just as important as activities in the classroom. Signing your children up for extracurricular clubs and teams is a great way to help them grow their social circle in a new country. Most schools offer a wide variety of options, from sports teams to choirs, drama clubs, robotics teams, book clubs, and dance teams. Research what your child’s new school offers before their first day and help them decide what groups they’d like to join or try out for. Importantly, encourage them to stick with it for at least a few weeks even if they don’t feel comfortable at first.
Your children will likely have lots of questions about their new school, along with anxieties and frustrations. Encourage them to ask you anything and try your best to provide open, honest answers. Let them know that it’s normal to be nervous or stressed out during a life transition, and that it’s healthy to speak about their feelings. Try to lead with empathy and avoid judging or getting angry with them.
Help your kids know what they’re walking into on their first day by arranging a tour of their new school. This may help alleviate some anxiety and familiarize them with important facilities like bathrooms, front offices, cafeterias, and even their classroom. With this knowledge in hand, they’ll feel less like an outsider. A school tour is also an excellent opportunity to meet with their new principal, guidance counselor, and teachers. Establishing these relationships is important for them, but also for you as their parent.
To avoid unnecessary stress and anxiety, you’ll want to avoid any surprises on their first day. Do your research ahead of time to know what their new schedule will look like. Some important things to know:
- How will they get to school? Will they take a school bus or public transportation or will they walk? If so, where will they meet it and at what time?
- Will your child or teen be with one teacher all day long or cycle between teachers and classrooms for different subjects?
- Will you need to pack lunch or will lunch be provided or purchased at school? If you’re packing lunch or snacks, are there any banned food items due to allergies?
- What time will lunch or snack breaks be?
- Will they need to bring a change of clothes for athletic activities or gym class?
- Will they be assigned a locker to keep their personal belongings in?
- How many recesses or free periods will they have throughout the day? What time will they be?
Reading age-appropriate books with your kids about moving, starting a new school, and making new friends is a great way to prepare them for what lies ahead and instill them with confidence. Here are some recommendations:
- Gustavo The Shy Ghost by Flavia Z. Drago
- Tilly & Tank by Jay Fleck
- Be a Friend by Selena Yoon
- The Invisible Boy by Patrice Barton
- Bad Bye, Good Bye by Deborah Underwood
- Yard Sale by Eve Bunting
- First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg and Judy Love
- Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes
Making new friends shouldn’t have to mean giving up old friends. Help your child maintain connections from home by making plans with their friends’ parents for phone or video calls, or for writing letters or postcards. Keeping these friendships alive will help reduce your child’s stress and anxiety while giving them an outlet where they can truly be themselves. For tweens and teens, you can look into getting them set up on age-appropriate social networks or messaging apps.
Moving to a new school and settling into a new, multicultural country can be a difficult transition for kids and teens. However, with these tips, you can help make things less stressful by successfully guiding them through the transition and helping your kids understand the differences in the Canadian school system.