4 effective ways to support your kids adjusting to school

kids in kindergarten class

Image  by Pxhere.  CC0

You are reading the Original Version (CLB5+) Read Simple Version (CLB3-4)

Skip to:

“They don’t understand me, Mama! They don’t want to play with me.”

This is what Fatima’s six-year-old daughter, Gemma, told her when she got home from her first day of school. All Fatima could do was comfort her as she cried and begged to return to their home country.

For many newcomer kids like Gemma, the first few days of school can be difficult. A new environment, new classmates, new rules, and a different language – all these can be overwhelming. It’s a big problem for parents who, like their kids, are also adjusting to their new country.

The good news is that children are resilient. With support, they are often able to assimilate faster than their parents. If your kids are having the first-day blues, here are a few tips to make their school days better:

  1. Always be open

    You will always be your children’s first and most important ally. Let them know that you are there to support them.

    • Listen – Give them your full attention when they’re talking to you. Let them finish their story before you react. If your child is quiet, ask how their day went. Ask about the activities that they enjoyed and new things they learned. Be gentle and encouraging. This will prevent them from focusing only on the things that they don’t like about school.
    • Don’t scold – Don’t raise your voice or think that they are being dramatic when they complain. This will make them think that their feelings are not valid. They’ll also learn that their concerns are not worth your attention. You will have a bigger problem when they decide to keep things to themselves. They should be able to ask you for help when they need it.
    • Don’t worry when they complain – That’s normal during the first few days. Do your best to make them comfortable at school to lessen their worries. For example, allow your child to bring one item from home (like a stuffed toy) on their first days in kindergarten, or walk them to school in the morning.
    • Send them to school prepared – Enough sleep and a nutritious breakfast will help them feel energized and ready to face a day of learning.
  2. Talk to the teacher

    Request to meet with teachers to discuss your concerns. You can do this anytime within the school year. Teachers can share resources like ESL programs and other classes that your child might need. They can also tell you how you can provide additional support at home. If you’re worried about your English, ask a relative or friend to go with you. Don’t worry, teachers are used to working with newcomer parents. They know your concerns. They will be happy to talk to you.

  3. Get involved

    Stay informed about school policies and programs by getting involved at their school.

    • Attend information meetings and parent-teacher conferences (read Preparing for a parent-teacher conference for tips).
    • Volunteer at school events – Helping out at school events will make you and your child feel more at home. This will also allow you to build a good relationship with the teachers and school staff.
    • Learn about the curriculum – My Child in School shows you what your child learns at every level. It also tells you how they are assessed based on the learning goals of each subject. Use the resources on the site to support your child in their studies.
  4. Get training and support

    Newcomer parents have an abundance of free supports in Manitoba. These range from parenting seminars, programs with child minding, and even classes for grandparents and guardians. Printed and online resources on parenting are also available. Go to:

“School is fun!”

I ran into Fatima recently and asked how Gemma was doing. Fatima’s face lit up and said that Gemma was doing well and starting to enjoy school. One time, Gemma even told her that school is fun! Fatima said that with the support of the teachers, her daughter is starting to look forward to going to school every day.

What if my child is not adjusting and continues to complain about school?

Each child is unique. There is no standard length of time for the transition period. However, if you feel that this is a particularly difficult case, the first thing to do is to observe and really listen to your child. Do you feel that there is something more that is not being said? Is your child scared, brooding (when they are usually cheerful), or worse, you see physical signs such as scars or bruises? They might be experiencing bullying, or perhaps going through unresolved trauma. Check if your child is showing the following signs:

  • Refusing to go to school, participate in activities, or see friends
  • Difficulties at school, like problems concentrating or speaking in class
  • Becoming very upset when parents or caregivers leave
  • Often seeking reassurance that everything will be okay
  • Avoiding specific things, like dogs, or situations, like large crowds
  • Becoming very upset over minor problems or conflicts
  • Expressing a lot of concerns or asking a lot of “What if…?” questions
  • Difficulties sleeping well or eating well
  • Physical complaints like stomach aches, headaches, shakiness, or dizziness
  • Having panic attacks more than occasionally

(From Children, youth and anxiety, Canadian Mental Health Association)

These are common signs of anxiety problems. Seek the advice of your family doctor, the school principal, or counselor if your child displays any signs on the list. Your doctor will be able to address and relieve some of your child’s physical symptoms and refer you to more specialized supports such as therapy and counselling.
Article updated August 22, 2023.
Sources: Children, youth and anxiety, Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA); Working with young children who are learning English as a new language, Government of Alberta; How can I prepare my child for starting kindergarten? Ontario Ministry of Education; and 10 ways to help your child succeed in elementary school, Kathryn Hoffses, PhD, Kids Health. Accessed August 1, 2019.

Back to top

We'd love to hear from you!

Please login to tell us what you think.

Related Learning Activities

Idiom Set: School & Learning

An apple and a stack of textbooks

In this idioms set you’ll find Canadian idioms relating to back-to-school, reading and learning. Click on each lesson for cool… Read more »


An apple and a stack of textbooks

Are you or your child involved in the education system in Manitoba? This course contains workshops designed for students of… Read more »

Back to top

CC BY-NC-SAText of this page is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA, unless otherwise marked. Please attribute to English Online Inc. and link back to this page where possible. For images and videos, check the source for licensing information.