5 most effective ways to support your kids adjusting to school

kids in kindergarten class

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

This is what Fatima’s six-year old told her when she got home from her first day in school. With tears in her eyes, her child begged for them to go back to their home country.

For many newcomer kids like Fatima’s, the first few weeks of school can be difficult. A new environment, new classmates, new rules, and a different language – all these can be overwhelming. It’s a problem for parents too who, like their kids, are also adjusting to their new country. The good news is that young children are resilient. They are open to learning and more often than not, they will assimilate the culture and language even faster than you. They will be able to adapt to tough situations especially when they get full support from their parents.

Here’s how to support your child during this transition period:

  1. Be always open

    You are your children’s first and most effective ally. It will give them great comfort knowing that you will always be there to support them.

    • Listen – Give them your full attention when they speak. Let them finish their story before you react. If they seem quiet, ask about their day when they come home from school. Ask about activities that they enjoyed and new things they learned. Be cheerful and encouraging. This will prevent them from focusing only on the things that they don’t like about school.
    • Don’t scold – Never raise your voice or think that they are being dramatic when they complain or cry. This will make them think that their feelings are not valid and that they not worth your attention. They might decide to keep things to themselves. You will have a bigger problem on your hands when they refuse to communicate with you later on. They should be able to ask 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 the first few days of 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 in the school year. Educators would know best how to support your child at school. They can tell you about extra supports like ESL resources and other classes that your child might need. They can also discuss strategies on how you can provide additional support at home. If you can’t speak English well, ask a relative or friend to go with you. Don’t worry, teachers are used to working with newcomer parents. They are familiar with your concerns. They will welcome your involvement.

  3. Encourage play

    Allow your child to go on play dates with kids in their school and in your neighbourhood. Playing with other kids will teach them the social and language skills that will help them assimilate more quickly at school. It’s a great way for you to get to know other parents in your neighbourhood as well. Other great venues where your kids can mingle with other kids is at swimming classes, martial arts, or art classes. Plus, learning a new skill or sport will boost your child’s confidence.

  4. Get involved

    Always show interest in your child’s learning. 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 in any way that you can at school events will help you and your child feel more at home. It also helps build a good relationship with the teachers and school staff.
    • Learn about the curriculum – My Child in School is a great resource for parents. Here you can see what your child will be learning at school at every level. It will also show you how your child is assessed based on the learning goals of the specific subject. Take advantage of the resources on the site to help you boost your child’s academic studies.
  5. 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 various aspects of parenting are also available:


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

There is no standard length of time for the transition period. Each child is unique. However, if you feel that your child is a particularly difficult case, the first thing to do is to observe and really listen to your child’s complaints. 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, do you see physical signs such as scars or bruises? Things like bullying or unresolved trauma could be factors you need to consider. See if your child is showing the following signs:

  • Refusing to go to school, participate in other 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 of these. Your doctor will be able to address and relieve some of your child’s physical symptoms and refer you to access more specialized supports such as therapy and counselling.

 
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.

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Community Resources

The Government of Manitoba sponsors various Mentorship Programs for young Manitobans. Find a list from the link.

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