“My heart hurts when I think about leaving my friends. I have so many people that I have grown to love. Everyone says that I will be able to make new friends, but it’s not the same. I am tired of hearing that over and over again! I don’t want to start a new school and meet new people. I don’t have any control over my life and I am so tired!”
The pain of starting a new school is challenging at its core because you have to make a new group of friends and you have to learn how to live in a new place. Children thrive upon a fixed routine and that gets thrown apart when you live somewhere new. Instead of the things that you know you have to do, you have to learn a new system and have to create a different set of routines that work for you and your family.
What You Can (and Can’t) Do
If your child is incessantly whining, trying to talk you out of moving or just stomping around the house slamming doors, it’s easy for you to get frustrated with their reactions. The most important thing you can do, however, is engage their concerns and feelings. Like most problems teenagers confront, simply listening to them – without trying to argue or make a point – can do a world of good.
Relocation is a long process and throughout there are steps you can take (and a few you shouldn’t) to help minimize the stress on your teen. Some of the more helpful tips are listed below:
- Expressing Their Feelings- Children need to be able to grieve and experience their emotions. When they can express their feelings, they are able to move on and feel open to new experiences. I have heard many parents feel impatient because they want their child to “get on with it and just be ready to deal with a new experience”. Depending on your adolescent and their circumstances, it can take time for them to adjust because they have created a community that they trust and they have to grieve because it is their loss. Parents have to remember that the adolescent did not make the choice to move so they need time to make the transition.
- Making New Connections-Children should join groups and do activities that they are interested in at their new school; Parents can ask their child who they connect with at their new school and then you can pursue playdates so that your child can feel more settled. When adolescents make connections in their new location, they can start to see the benefits of a new location and what this can mean in their life. It is also helpful to make friends with a family who has been here for a year or two so they can understand what you/your child are going through while also feeling more settled because they have found things that make them content. “Until I met the “Jones”, I did not know that there were women’s groups that I could join. It made me feel more at ease and figure out what I needed to learn. Now, when I feel like I am alone, I realize there are people I can call on and it gets better.”
- Maintaining the Important Connections – Encouraging and making an effort so that they can still keep their friendships alive will help your children feel more settled in their new location. Children have to keep in mind that there is a balance because if you are only connecting with your friends in your previous country, it makes it impossible to build new friendships. With the internet, it makes it easier than ever to keep up your previous relationships. If you find that you are talking to friends from your previous location on a daily basis, it can prevent you from getting settled and building close relationships in your new school.
- Keeping a Positive Outlook-As the first day draws near, begin talking to your child about his/her expectations, hopes, and fears for the upcoming school year. Reassure him/her that other children are having the same feelings and that he/she will be sure to have a great year. Present school as a place where she’ll learn new things and make friends. It helps to show them videos of their new school so they can begin to get excited about what is going to come.
- Having Some Control over the Situation-If it is possible to let your child choose between a few schools, this helps them feel like they have some input over the decision. Figure out what control you can give to your child so they feel more invested in the move. It could be: How would you want to decorate your new room? What activities would you like to do? How would you like to end your time here-a party, sleep-over, time with your best friend?
Not all children experience stress when moving-many are very excited and face no issues about the change. It is different and you cannot predict how someone feels. Even if a child feels excited, it can change when he/she is in a new situation. Being open and letting your adolescent move through the different stages is important.
It takes an entire village to raise your Child
For parents, it is important to remember that you should not put a negative slant on the life that they had before because a person is a sum of their collective experiences. In counseling sessions, I have heard families say to their child that, “One country is better than another country so you should feel happier and you won’t miss your previous experience”. Parents say it because they want their child to be optimistic about the move and feel good about the change. However, a child needs to take his/her time to feel sad and then he/she will move to a more positive outlook when he/she is ready. When a parent says something negative, it takes away from a child and once the child takes in that feeling as his/her own, it can cut themselves off from a very important experience.
“Anarkali” lived in many different countries from the time she was little. She moved from India to England. She was 10 years old and had lived in India for the first 9 years of her life. When they had to move to England, she was devastated because she had so many good friends and she had special caretakers who showered her with love. Her family told her, “You’re going to be living in a better place. There are not too many playgrounds here and you will be happier. You will forget about India after you have lived in England.” She felt depressed because her family felt so different from her. She came to realize that she could not express how she genuinely felt because they always told her how bad India was. At a certain point, she cut herself off from the love she experienced and started to talk negatively about her time in India. It takes a village to raise your child and by allowing her to feel good about her experiences is important. Parents have to keep their feelings in check when they are trying to understand what a child is experiencing.
Starting a new school can be challenging and hard, but in time, you will find new friends and things you enjoy. I am not going to tell you that it does not hurt to leave your friends behind because I know that it is so painful. You have to figure out who you are in a new community and be with what is not known. That is the part that is scariest and the hardest part of change. When you start over, we often go through loss because we remember all the friends and the experiences we treasured. No matter what you do, you cannot replicate the past-you can only create something new and there may be things that are better and there will be things that are worse. Even though you get stronger by going through the difficult experiences, it is not easy and it takes strength to go from a place of feeling sad, to feeling okay, to feeling content, to feeling happy and to finally thrive in a new school/location. It is a team effort for adjusting to a new school and it involves a joint effort between the adolescents and their parents. Remember that you will have your ups and downs when you deal with change but that things will get better over time.