Opinion: How kids can adjust to a new school

People change schools all the time. Whatever the reason, it can be a challenge.

Whatever way you feel, whether it is exciting or weird and scary, these feelings are normal and to be expected. It is normal to have all kinds of thoughts and feelings about adjusting to a new place with new people. Missing your old friends, having to learn a new school layout, feeling shy or nervous about talking to new people, being more irritable and feeling drained and exhausted from adjusting to all this new stuff can really take a toll on your previous relationships with family members and even your old friends. To sum it up, it is really hard to be the “new kid on the block.”

So to help you adjust I would like to focus on some practical tips for navigating your new school and your thoughts and feelings.

Carin Pittleman

Carin Pittleman

Team up:  Depend on others.  Talk out your thoughts and feelings with family members and friends. If you can be part of the decision-making process of which school or classes to go to “go for it.”  Don’t be shy to speak your mind to the decision makers who usually are your parents. Remember you can always ask for what you want, the worst thing that can happen is that the answer will be “no.”

Be Positive: Reach out to others about your expectations, hopes and fears about the new school year.  Remember that those closest to you have gone through similar changes in their life.

Get involved:  Push yourself to explore your new school and what it can offer you and what you can offer it. Learn about the various school activities and see what “speaks” to you. Become an explorer and try new things. It may lead to meeting new people with the same passions in life.  You might even meet a “best friend.”

Nurture your brain and body:  Get enough sleep before school starts. Start with a daily routine and healthy eating, moderate exercise and a schedule for getting 7-8 hours of sleep every night. This is especially important before the first day of school. Stress can exhaust the mind and body, so make this transition easier by starting a school-year sleep routine a week or two in advance.

Practice makes perfect: It is difficult enough prodding through strange hallways and student crowds with the added stress of not being familiar with your surroundings. Take a trial run exploring the new school before the first day of school.  Learn where classrooms are, visit the cafeteria and gymnasium and finally locate all the restrooms for easy access.   In addition, if you are taking the bus or walking to school, learn and map out the route ahead of time, avoiding vacant lots and areas without a lot of people.  Have a “buddy system” in place and discuss emergency procedures before school starts.  Finally, many schools have special first day activities and procedures.  Call your new school and find out about this.  Whatever you can do in advance in a relaxed fashion will help reduce those “jittery” feelings.

Practical tips: Stock up on the supplies you need.  Most schools will provide a list of required materials.  Prepare your backpack, lunch and school materials the night before so you are not rushing in the morning.  Get a good night’s sleep and eat a nutritious breakfast in the morning.  Remember to bring healthy protein and carbohydrate snacks for throughout the day to fuel your body and mind.  If possible, ask a friend to accompany you on this first day to help you acclimate to your new surroundings.

Social tips:  Body language is important.  Be friendly. Smile! For some this is very difficult to do during stressful times. Neurotransmitters called endorphins are released when you smile. Endorphins or “good feeling” hormones in your brain help create a feeling of relaxation. Endorphins are responsible for making us feel happy, and they also help lower stress levels. Walking around with a worried scowl and crossing your arms is body language for “stay away from me.” Smile and be open with people. Most new students do not realize that current students are happy to see a new face and are curious to check you out. They might be as nervous as you are and hesitate to approach you, so take a chance and engage them with a smile. Introduce yourself. In most situations, your audience will be relieved that you took the initiative.

Communication is only approximately 7 percent verbal but it packs a powerful punch. Watch what you say. Most people appreciate a good sense of humor and positivity. Be careful not to criticize others including teachers. Gossip is listened to by the listener, but later the listener reflects and wonders what you might say about them to others. So it is best to avoid gossip. If you find yourself in a situation where someone you meet is gossiping, try to change the subject in a positive direction. Finally adjust your expectations. You are new to this school. It will take time to adjust and find out exactly where you stand in this new crowd. Be patient with yourself.

All change can be difficult and stressful. Of course, everybody handles change differently. Some people like to sit in a quiet room and think about it.  Other people want to talk about it with friends and family. It is important to talk to someone about intense feelings. If you are losing sleep, not eating, feeling depressed or having thoughts of hurting yourself, it is important that you find someone to talk to. If you don’t feel you can talk to your parents seek out a rabbi, cantor, or other clergy, or a school counselor who can direct you to a trained clinical therapist. A skilled therapist will help you explore your feelings and thoughts and help you learn how to navigate this new adventure in your life.

Carin Pittleman, MSSW, LCSW is a trained psychotherapist in private practice at Cornerstone Counseling Services in Glendale.