Is moving more traumatic for certain children?: ask the expert

Is moving school for children more damaging at certain ages and for certain types of children? My daughter is shy and finding it difficult to make new friends. What can I do to help her at her new school?

Moving schools is often accompanied by moving home, or other life changes which can be incredibly unsettling for a child. If it’s just moving school and you’re staying in the same area, you can try some simple things to make the transition easier on your daughter.


Keep good links with old friends.

Make sure that she sees them as often as she can. This will give her people to talk to and reduce any feelings of loss.

Keep in touch

She can write a letter to her old teacher telling him/her about her new school. This will help her to acknowledge some of the good things about her new school that she likes.

Making new friends

Invite new friends round to play after school. Let her be in charge of deciding what to eat and what she wants to do. This will increase her confidence and hopefully result in some return invitations.

Get involved with the school

Try to go into the class to help or volunteer to go on a school trip. This is another thing that will help your daughter feel comfortable at school which will help her to relax and relate better to the children in her class. Make sure you stay in the background and don’t ‘push’ her to be more outgoing. The last thing she will need is to be singled out by you in front of her friends.

Combining friendship groups

Have a tea party and invite friends from her new and old school. If she sees her old friends getting on well with some of the children in her new class, she will feel more confident around them.

Talk to her teacher

Schools are always much more able to help if they know of problems before they become massive – a head teacher I know asks parents to bring her their snowflakes, not their avalanches! – so they should be happy that you are talking to them and take any concerns you raise seriously. Children often behave differently at school and at home so it would be helpful to you if you can get the teacher’s perspective on how your daughter’s settling in.

The issue becomes more complicated if the school move is a result of other issues, house moves, parental separation etc. In such cases, you need to be careful not to misattribute behaviour such as not making friends to a problem at school when it may be that your daughter feels unable to say what is really upsetting her, and uses school as a scape-goat. Again, it is important to keep good lines of communication open with the school, but you will need to be more patient and make sure that your daughter feels as secure as possible in her home environment.
Letting her redecorate/rearrange her bedroom will give her somewhere that she feels in control. Having such a haven is a great help to children going through changes where they feel they have little control. Also, seeing trusted adults (grandparents etc) will help her feel secure and relaxed and provide her with opportunities to talk about any worries she is having. The activities mentioned above can be tried as well, but you may need to tread a bit more gently and make sure that you acknowledge the emotions your child is experiencing.
Life isn’t easy and it’s good if you can acknowledge that your daughter is unhappy, and try and help her make the most of her situation. Comments like, ‘You seem a bit sad, can you tell me what is making you feel sad?’ and ‘I miss ……. too, why don’t we try and be brave this week and we can reward ourselves with a treat on Friday’ are helpful as they don’t belittle your daughter’s concerns, nor do they make promises that can’t be fulfilled.
Children are very good at picking up on adult emotions, so it is important that you make sure that you are happy. No one is happy all the time, but when you’re struggling it really helps children if you can acknowledge that you’re having an off day and that you find something hard, but then say what you are going to do to try and make yourself feel better (go to bed early, treat yourself, have a cuddle). This will provide your daughter with a good model of how to deal with negative emotions and at the same time make her more likely to talk to you about her feelings as she’ll think that you’ll understand.
Super-mums who pretend to feel fantastic all the time don’t give their children the opportunity to learn to deal with feeling less than great. If you and the school feel that your daughter’s shyness is hindering her development, you can ask to be referred to an educational psychologist who will be able to assess your daughter and make appropriate recommendations for what to do next. Otherwise, have patience and she will find her feet in her own time with love and support from her family and friends.

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