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.”

This is what Fatima’s six-year-old girl, Gemma, said to her when she came back from her first day at school. All Fatima could do was to make her feel better as she cried and asked to go back to their old country.

For many new kids like Gemma, the first few days of school can be hard. A new place, new friends, new rules, and a different language – all these can be too much. It’s a big issue for parents who, like their kids, are also getting used to their new country.

The good news is that kids are strong. With help, they can often get used to culture and language even faster than their parents. If your kids are feeling sad on the first day, here are a few tips to make their school days better:

  1. Always be there for them

    You will always be your kids’ first and most important friend. Let them know that you are there to help them.

    • Listen – Pay full attention when they’re talking to you. Let them finish their story before you respond. If your child is quiet, ask how their day was. Ask about the fun activities and new things they learned. Be kind and supportive. This will stop them from only thinking about the things that they don’t like about school.
    • Don’t scold – Don’t shout or think that they are overreacting when they complain. This will make them think that their feelings are not important. They’ll also learn that their worries are not worth your time. You will have a bigger issue 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 in the first few days. Do your best to make them feel good at school to lessen their worries. For example, let your child bring one thing from home (like a toy) on their first days in kindergarten, or walk them to school in the morning.
    • Send them to school ready – Enough sleep and a good breakfast will help them feel full of energy and ready to learn.
  2. Talk to the teacher

    Ask to meet with teachers to talk about your worries. You can do this anytime during the school year. Teachers can share resources like English classes and other classes that your child might need. They can also tell you how you can help more at home. If you’re worried about your English, ask a family member or friend to go with you. Don’t worry, teachers are used to working with new parents. They understand your worries. They will be happy to talk to you.

  3. Get involved

    Stay up-to-date about school rules and programs by getting involved at their school.

    • Go to information meetings and parent-teacher meetings (read Preparing for a parent-teacher meeting for tips).
    • Help at school events – Helping out at school events will make you and your child feel more at home. This will also let you build a good relationship with the teachers and school staff.
    • Learn about the lessons My Child in School shows you what your child learns at every level. It also tells you how they are checked 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 help

    New parents have a lot of free help in Manitoba. These range from parenting classes, programs with child care, and even classes for grandparents and guardians. Printed and online resources on parenting are also available. Go to:

“School is fun!”

I saw Fatima not long ago. I asked her about Gemma. Fatima was happy and told me that Gemma was doing good. She also said that Gemma was beginning to like school. Once, Gemma even said to her that school is a good place! Fatima told me that the teachers are helping a lot. Because of them, her daughter is excited to go to school every day.

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

Every child is different. There is no set time for how long changes take. But, if you think your child is having a hard time, the first thing to do is to watch and really listen to your child. Do you think there is something more that is not being talked about? Is your child scared, thinking a lot (when they are usually happy), or even worse, do you see marks like cuts or bruises? They might be getting bullied, or maybe dealing with a bad experience that hasn’t been solved. Look to see if your child is showing these signs:

  • Not wanting to go to school, join in other things, or see friends
  • Having a hard time at school, like finding it hard to focus or talk in class
  • Getting very upset when parents or people who look after them leave
  • Often asking if everything will be alright
  • Staying away from certain things, like dogs, or situations, like big groups of people
  • Getting very upset over small problems or fights
  • Talking about a lot of worries or asking a lot of “What if…?” questions
  • Finding it hard to sleep well or eat well
  • Saying they have physical pains like stomach pains, headaches, feeling shaky, or feeling dizzy
  • Having panic attacks more than sometimes
  • (From Children, youth and anxiety, Canadian Mental Health Association)

These are usual signs of anxiety problems. Ask your family doctor, the school head, or a helper if your child shows any signs on the list. Your doctor will be able to help with some of your child’s physical signs and suggest you to more expert help like therapy and talking about problems.

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.

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