The metamorphosis from one year to another always entails a transition for children. Whether the shift is from preschool to “big school,” primary school to high school, moving to a school in a different location or simply progressing to a new grade – some kind of adjustment is bound to happen as the digits on the calendar changes.
A similar process takes place when one travels from one country to another. You board a plane in your homeland and after a period in No Man’s Land, you enter foreign territory. Likewise, children exit familiar terrain and after a “transit period” known as the sunny summer holiday, they land in an unfamiliar space where they will need to find their feet again.
Here are some “travelling tips” to make this transitioning from one educational setting to another more smoothly for your little passenger:
Go through passport control
Just like you will need to present your alien passport at customs, allow your child to face the fact that they are bearing a “foreign passport” for a while. Acknowledge that they feel strange and stressed. Talk about their emotions before and after the new season begins. Do not get irritated or angry when they act out emotionally or behaviourally. Address their manners, but support them to see the connection between the stressful situation and their mood.
Take time to acclimate
Help your newbie with age-appropriate coping activities while they adapt to the novel circumstances. For example: have them draw, write or talk about their feelings; or help them channel the emotional energy into exercise or a hobby. Most importantly, support them by providing a loving and caring home environment as a safe escape.
Shake off the jetlag
Moving between time zones requires some adjusting for your body, especially after a period on a plane where you were not following a natural schedule. Always remember that it will take some time for your child too to “catch up” with their new situation and to “recover” from the summer break. For children, new routines (or even the re-establishment of old ones after a holiday break) can be quite hard on their systems. Be gentle, but firm (and do not delay!) when you re-apply normal bedtimes, meal times, chore schedules, diet restrictions, house rules, etc. Read here and here for more hints regarding snapping out of holiday mode into real-world mode.
Learn the new customs
Like travellers need to familiarise themselves with the new culture in which they now operate, just so children will also need to get acquainted with their new environment and learn to navigate their way in their strange new country.
When you go to a foreign country, you have at least some knowledge of it – you have seen a picture or two, you know what language the inhabitants speak and more or less what the climate is like. Communicate information and prepare your children by:
- Taking small children to see the new school and, if possible, meet the new teacher.
- Informing children if they are going to attend more days in a week than before and if the school times or aftercare arrangements have changed.
- Doing role play if it is your child’s first time at school where you take turns to be the teacher and student to prepare them for the classroom scenario.
- Involving them in the back-to-school preparations regarding their uniforms, stationery and other school necessities to get a better feel for the new school year.
- Getting them excited about some sort of mascot item that can accompany them, like a special ‘super pen’ or a new water bottle with cool pictures on it.
- Letting older children browse the school’s website.
- Arranging play dates with some of your child’s new classmates if you are in a new location before the school starts to help them feel less alone on their first day.
Focus on the fun!
Traveling does not come without its perils. Yet, if you choose to indulge in the amazing experience of being in a completely new place, it becomes enchanting and exciting. Try to help your children to see their new circumstances in the same light by directing their attention to the positive aspects of the new season: Does the new school offer a different sport or extracurricular activity that he would like to try out? Is she now such a big girl that she can attend the same school as her older brother? Will he get to play with a new friend?
Find incentives too, like making a special breakfast on the first morning or going on a fun outing after the end of the first school week.
Transitions are never easy for anyone and can be especially taxing on children. Remember, that they have not mastered mature coping strategies yet and are therefore more emotionally vulnerable. Do your best to help them make their journey into a new school year as adventurous and painless as possible and enjoy the ride.