tips for students changing schools
Moving schools this year? It’s a big change, but Dr Aaron Balick, author of Keep Your Cool, shares his top 10 tips for children, teens and their parents who are worried or nervous about the move
Changing schools is a big deal, so what’s the best way to face it? It’s a paradox, but the one thing that never changes about life is change: change just happens. While you can’t prepare for every change you’re going to meet, you can learn to get better at dealing with change itself. Changing schools is the challenge now, but big changes will happen again and again (nothing stays the same), so getting skilled up in dealing with change will help you for the rest of your life.
In my book, Keep Your Cool: How to Deal With Life’s Worries and Stress, I talk a lot about how your beliefs about things don’t just affect how you feel, but also how things work out for you in the end. What are you beliefs about changing schools? Are they positive? Negative? Both? How will they affect what happens in the end?
Between you and the real world are your perceptions (beliefs about the world)– and managing your perceptions can make a huge difference to what happens to you in the world. Whenever something is coming up that you can’t change, think about how you might be able to change what you can, which your reaction to it.
- Turn your anxiety into excitement
Anxiety and excitement are two closely related feelings (that’s why people bungee jump and go on roller coasters). Anxiety is excitement with the added ingredient of fear that things will go badly. By turning your anxiety into excitement, you can enjoy the anticipation of starting at a new school without scaring yourself out of your wits!
- Create images that excite you!
When you don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, you can create more anxiety by imagining that awful things are going to happen. By changing your story (and the images in your head), you can create excitement instead. So, instead of imagining what can go wrong, imagine what can go right. Really go for it by seeing yourself arriving in your new school happy, confident, and raring to go!
- Make space to talk about what is being lost
While you want to feel positive about what’s coming up, change means that you lose something too. Old teachers, old friends, and an old school building will be left behind – and that can feel sad. So make sure you let yourself experience the sadness by talking it over with friends who are going through it too. If you’re sad, it’s actually a good thing, because it means you had a good experience there that you’re sad to leave behind. If you’re not sad, then it’s probably time for a new start where you have a new chance to make it happy.
- Take a sneak peak
Many schools will offer a tour of your next school towards the end of your last term. This is a great way of getting excited and removing the fear of the unknown. If your school doesn’t do this, or you’re changing schools at a different time of year for other reasons, see if you can arrange a private tour yourself.
- Make good use of older siblings, cousins or friends
Nothing takes the edge off more than talking things over with someone who’s recently changed schools themselves. Find out if you know someone who’s done it recently to see what it was like. Choose someone you admire and you feel you can trust.
- Who can be your allies?
Under most circumstances, you won’t be alone in changing schools. Find out which of your friends will also be moving to the same place. You can agree to be allies and look after each other while things are new. If you don’t have any friends going, it’s a chance to make a fresh start. Still, see if the new school has a mentor system, which can make the transition easier.
- Room to express feelings
As the first day approaches, make sure you are talking about your feelings to people you trust. You can also explore your feelings through art, writing, Plasticine, music, whatever! Be curious about what you produce and share it with family or friends.
- Remember: you’re all in the same boat
Sometimes you can get so caught up in your own feelings that you forget that everyone changing schools is in the same boat. All the new students will be nervous at a new start – in fact, so will the teachers! In short, it’s normal to feel a bit nervous, but you definitely won’t be the only one – you’re in good company.
- It’s a confidence game
First impressions are important, so do your best to look the part on the first day. Make sure you get up nice and early, that you have a good ushered breakfast so you’ll have the energy you need for the day. Also, be sure your face is clean, your nails are cut, your hair styled, etc. Go in there feeling strong and confident, feeling like you’re ready to face just about anything!
- Change is a part of life
We don’t learn everything in school: we learn most the important stuff of life just through living. Instead of seeing big change as a scary thing outside of everyday life, learn to accept change as much a part of life as everything else. Become aware of your anxiety and turn it into excitement, think positively about the future, and be resilient to change. These are skills you can improve upon for the rest of your life. Consider changing schools a practice run! Try to stay aware of your feelings as they develop over the first few weeks, and then compare them to what you had anticipated – you’ll be surprised. Next time big change comes, you’ll know how to face it even better.
Dr Aaron Balick’s book Keep Your Cool: How to Deal With Life’s Worries and Stress is available from the Guardian bookshop.
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