4 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,” said Fatima’s six-year-old daughter.

The first day of school is hard for newcomer kids. They need to adjust to a new school, language and classmates. They can feel confused and alone. Help your child by:

  1. Being open

    • Listen – Focus on your child. Don’t say anything until your child is finished talking.
      Ask your child: How was your day? Did you play outside? Did you have fun? What did you learn in school?
      Be cheerful. Show your excitement when they tell you about their activities at school.

    • Don’t scold – Don’t get mad when they complain. It will scare them away. They will not talk to you later on. They should be able to ask you for help when they need it.
    • Don’t worry when they complain – This is normal. Help them be more comfortable at school. For example:
      • Your child can bring one item from home (for example, a stuffed toy) on the first day of kindergarten.
      • Walk with them to school.
    • Send them to school prepared – Make sure they have enough sleep. Give them a good breakfast in the morning. These will ensure that they will be in a good mood and have enough energy.
  2. Talk to the teacher

    Request to meet with the teacher. Tell them about your concerns. Work with the teacher to support your child. Ask about programs in school like ESL resources and other classes. Ask a relative or friend to go with you if you can’t speak English well. Teachers know how to work with newcomer parents. They will be happy to help!

  3. Get involved

    • Go to information meetings and parent-teacher conferences (read Preparing for a parent-teacher conference).
    • Volunteer at school events
    • Know what your child is learning in school. Go to My Child in School. You will see the subjects and activities at every level. Read the resources on the site to help your child study.
  4. Get training and support

    These resources and programs are free to newcomers:

“School is fun!”

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

What if my child continues to complain about school?

There is no exact time for adjustment. Each child is unique, so continue supporting your child.

Ask your family doctor, school principal or counselor for help 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. Go to your doctor. Your child may need therapy and counselling.
Article updated September 15, 2021.
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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