8 ways to prepare
your child for a new school

Posted on 12 January 2017

Starting a new school is very exciting but it’s a big step, especially if the change is from primary to high school. An educational psychologist offers advice to parents to help learners start a new school on a positive note.

Getting used to a new school can be difficult for some young people and first-day jitters can be hard to overcome. A new school may mean bigger buildings, larger student bodies, more choices and more freedom. Along with excitement, learners can feel anxiety, uncertainty and isolation, while parents may spend hours worrying about how their children will fit in and what they need to know.

Educational psychologist André Vos from Potchefstroom offers these tips for parents to assist a smooth transition into a new school:

  1. Figure out the logistics

When entering a new school, the first hurdles are logistical – remembering the layout of the building, getting to classes on time, and meeting new learners and teachers. Some prinicipals invite parents and their children to an orientation day before school starts to familiarise themselves with the location of classess, restrooms, offices and sports facilities.

Talk to your child about how they will get to and from school, and travel the route with them. If they are walking or taking public transport, do a practice run to ensure they are confident travelling on their own. Give them the space to handle this challenge on their own – show support but don’t take over unless they ask for help.

  1. Be interested and enthusiastic

Your encouragement will help your child to make a successful transition. A big NO is dwelling on your own experiences of school, as it could seem like an unfavourable comparison. Explain that many learners feel apprehensive about going to a new school, but there will be people to help them to adjust. Listen to your child’s experiences and expectations, talk to them regularly and make sure you know how they’re feeling.

  1. Use the school’s website

Familiarise yourself with the new school’s website and encourage your child to do the same. Arrange a chat with an older learner from the school if possible.

  1. Talk about new-school nerves and red flags

Reassure your child that it’s normal to have mixed feelings about starting at a new school, and tell them how you felt when you started somewhere new so that they realise it’s common to be nervous. Encourage them to ask if they can’t find their way around or if they don’t know how to do something. Assure them that although other people may look and sound confident, they may be just as nervous underneath.

The following red flags may indicate the transition isn’t going well: headaches, stomach aches, sleeplessness or not wanting to go to school. This is definitely the time to ask what’s going on. Parents should watch for any out-of-character behaviour and be aware of bullying. Encourage your child to talk about their feelings and get help if necessary.

  1. Talk about making new friends

Encourage your child to make the first move – smile and make eye contact. Some schools have a buddy system where older children at the school look out for new students.

Many high school educators recommend that parents keep track of their child’s friends. Be wary if your eight-grader starts hanging out with 11- or 12-graders, whether in a platonic or romantic relationship, as older students can take advantage of younger ones.

  1. Monitor progress

Monitor your child’s grades and attendance. Poor grades may be a sign that the learner is struggling with time management or study methods, or it can indicate another underlying problem.

  1. Help to develop good study habits

Your child should have a space in their own bedroom, or another quiet area where they can work and study. Help your child to set aside a particular time to do homework and study. Assist them with working out a daily timetable that incorporates all their needs and interests. Regularly viewed TV programmes, club activities and sport should be part of the timetable. Ultimately they will need to manage their own study programme and take responsibility.

  1. Familiarise yourself

You don’t see your child’s school friends every day and you don’t know their teachers. You rely on your child to bring home notes and messages. Teachers know the prime objective for parents is that their children are safe, happy and will develop both academically and socially. Parents should take every opportunity to familiarise themselves with the new school to give them peace of mind – attend open evenings and induction events.

Lastly, remember that children are far more resilient and adaptable than parents sometimes give them credit for.

André Vos (Educational Psychologist): 018 294 8093


In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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