Q:After years of wondering whether or not it would ever happen, my husband finally received a promotion at work! Though we’ve dreamed of this scenario for years, the fact that it’s happening suddenly has us worried. Not only will we be moving to a new state, but we will have to move during the school year. Our son is in fourth grade and our daughter is in sixth grade, and we’re worried about how they will make the transition to a new school that’s already in session. Is there anything we can do to make the situation easier for them?
First of all, congratulations on your husband’s promotion! It sounds like this has been a long time in the making. Also, kudos to you for recognizing how difficult this transition might be on your kids. Moving midway through the school year is tough on everyone—the kids, the parents, the teachers—but preparing for those challenges will make the switch easier for everyone.
First, ask yourself if you really have to move midway through the school year. Your husband may need to report to his new job by a specific date, but the whole family may not need to join him immediately. Is there a way for you and the kids to stay in your current location until the end of the school year? Would that kind of arrangement make the transition easier for the kids, or would temporarily dividing the family increase, rather than decrease, everyone’s stress level?
If that’s an impossible option for your situation, the best advice is to plan, plan, and plan some more. If you haven’t already informed your children of the situation, do so now. While younger kids don’t need as much advanced warning in these kinds of situations (doing so can increase apprehension), your kids are old enough to benefit from full transparency.
After everyone is informed, plan a visit to your new location while you’re still rooted in your current home. Let them see your new house or apartment, and make an appointment for them to tour their new school. Ask if you and your child can sit in on a class for a short amount of time—say 15–20 minutes—to get a taste of what they can expect. A short visit to an actual classroom full of kids can help your child get a feel for the new environment and give you a sample of the teaching style and classroom expectations. It’s also an authentic way to let your kid meet some of his or her new classmates prior to the first day.
If you aren’t able to arrange a visit before the move, share pictures of your new home and school so that the kids know what to expect. Almost every school website supplies teacher e-mail addresses. Help your child e-mail the teacher with a list of questions and concerns. Ask if he or she can arrange a kind of e-mail pen pal exchange so that your child has a ready-made friend prior to the first day.
You may also want to ask about signing up for clubs and activities prior to the move. Some organizations, such as the Girl or Boy Scouts, can transfer your child’s membership to your new location to ease transitions. Your child’s current leader should be able to tell you how to do this. But don’t just stick to the tried and true. Use the move as an opportunity to explore interests that may be unavailable at your current school. Perhaps the skiing club or surfing lessons will provoke a little more excitement about the move.
Once you’ve arrived in your new home, don’t rush into the first day. Though it may be tempting to start them at school right away (and give you time to focus on unpacking), doing so can sabotage all your hard work. Don’t start your child in the new school until his or her bedroom is set up. Unpack their rooms first to make sure it gets done in a timely fashion. This strategy ensures that your child will have a sanctuary—and maybe even a place to entertain new friends—after that first day.
And remember: your children take their cues from you. If you act anxious, they will be anxious. If you are confident and supportive, they will approach the situation with a better frame of mind.