When it comes to how children adjust after a major transition (such as a move), school is a major playing field. It is at the centre of their lives, not least because they spend the biggest part of their days there. School also is their main social habitat. It’s where most of their friends come from, at least in the beginning. What happens at school often “spills over” to the rest of their lives. If they feel comfortable and integrated in their new school, that usually helps them do the same in other areas; if they struggle there, it taints their whole experience (not to mention their parents’).
The first day of school for my two older children, or rather their first week, was one of the most stressful times of our move to Switzerland – for me. I was nervous for them. Would they like it? Would the other kids be nice to them? Would they fit in and be accepted? I was most worried about them feeling awkward and lonely.
I still have vivid memories of what going to a new school felt like – from my own moves. Even though I was very young at the time, I distinctly remember the feeling of being the new kid in class, the odd-one-out, all these – thankfully brief – moments in the beginning that I would happily have skipped. I would rather my children did not have to hang out by themselves during break; sit alone at lunch; not have a partner for those first group projects. I would rather they’d skipped those moments, even if they are a necessary part of adjustment; even if they are a rite of passage that will make them stronger and more resilient. Of course, there was absolutely nothing I could have done to spare them that. They had to manage on their own and they did a decent job, as far as I can tell.
But they have changed in the past few months. My older son has become much more independent and responsible, but also more irritable, short-tempered, stressed and, in his own words, lonelier than he was back in Vienna. My daughter, always bubbly and larger than life, has become more subdued. She spends much more time by herself than she used to. If I didn’t know better, I’d say she’s lost her
Most of these changes are subtle. Sometimes they are able to express how they feel, sometimes I have to dig deep to get them to formulate what bothers them. I’m sure some of those changes have to do with them growing up, but isn’t it a strange coincidence that they should all happen now? And, more important, are they just transition pains or are they here to stay?
Were you ever the new kid at school? Did you like it or hate it? How did your kids cope with it?