Family will be moving right after daughter starts kindergarten

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  August 2, 2012 06:00 AM

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Question: We have been trying to help my my very shy 5 year old get ready for transition to kindergarten in the fall. We've taken her to the playground in her new school, bought her a few books about kindergarten, and reminded her that she'll know three children from her preschool. She feels re-assured and is really looking forward it.

For a variety of reasons, we have decided to put our house on the market and move to another town where she won't know anyone. Unfortunately, she will be in school for a month or two and she will have to switch schools. We are confident that this will be a good move for the family in the long run. Any advice on what we should tell her now and what can we do to make this "second transition" easier?

From: Vanessa, Worcester, MA


Hi Vanessa,

Keep a lid on it for as long as you can; developmentally, a child this age doesn't need more than a few weeks' notice about a change like this. Here's the caveat, though: You don't want her to hear about this from someone else (a neighbor, a teacher, a relative, who says something seemingly innocent: "Are you excited about moving?!" That's the second worst way for the lid to come off. The worst way is for her to pick up some vague information from you -- she overhears a telephone conversation, or hears you and dad talking quietly together -- which forces her to come to her own conclusions.

So, for as long as you can be sure that you can control what the rest of the world knows or says, there's no need to share with her. That will enable you to help her keep the focus on starting kindergarten. Obviously you want to do everything you can to make that a positive experience -- and it sounds like you're doing a good job so far. So keep that up. Once she has that past her, it will become a story that will help her adjust to the new school. "Remember when you didn't know if you would like your kindergarten teacher? And you ended up liking her soooo much?" "Remember when you worried you wouldn't make any friends in kindergarten at X school? And you met Mary and she was your bestest friend....?" Those experiences will help her develop coping mechanisms for the second transition: "What did you do to make friends with Mary?"

Once she knows you are moving, you will want to do some of the same things you've done with the transition to kindergarten:

Drive past the school: "That's going to be your new school."

Play at the playground.

Make an appointment to visit the school yourself; that sends a message to your daughter that says, "Mom is really paying attention to my needs." Ask the new teacher to recommend someone in the classroom who would be a potential good match and open to a play date the new first day, so there will be a familiar face for her.

Tell your daughter about the visit but be careful not to say things like, "You're going to love the red reading rug....." Instead, make statements of fact: "There's a red rug in the middle of the room, for reading." "There are three gerbils and two hamsters." Let her make the connections: "A red rug? That's just like my kindergarten now. Gerbils and hamsters? I love them!"

Make an appointment for her to go and visit the classroom and meet the teacher. Do this close in time to when she will start. Afterwards, help her to remember things about the visit: "Remember that jungle gym? Remember where the bathroom is, right next to the ....."

Make sure she has a chance to say goodbye to the classroom, teachers and friends she's leaving. In two months, she won't be all that attached to it, but taking pictures and making an album is a way for her to get closure.

Whatever you do, when you tell her that the family is moving, don't make promises you can't keep. It's a no-brainer not to promise to paint her new room her favorite color (purple! chartreuse!) unless you're really going to do it. Similarly, don't promise she's going to "love" the new school/new house/new neighborhood. What if she doesn't? Instead, talk about the things that will be the same: "You'll have your own room, just like you do in this house." "You'll have two teachers in kindergarten, just like you do here." "You'll take the bus to kindergarten, just like you do now." Don't avoid what will be different -- if she asks a direct question, answer it honestly -- but it's always better to talk first about what stays the same.

I can't push send on this without one last thought. You describe your daughter as "shy." Describe her instead as "slow to warm up." Read this to learn why.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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2 comments so far...
  1. I know of some kids who were allowed to start a school year in their new school before the move, or finish a school year in their old school after the move. If this could logistically work, it might be worth asking about. It never hurts to ask.

    Posted by AP August 3, 12 01:47 PM
  1. Well, its rare that I can comment as a parent and as a child! My family moved when I was in nursery school (preschool for the under 40 set) and I was also very shy--I had trouble speaking to adults who were not related to me as well as other children, which put me in an extreme category of shyness. On top of that I went not to 2 different schools but 3 all in the same year (we lived in 3 different places).

    First, as a parent I think children respond to your anxiety, so its important not to pass your worries onto them. Just because this feels like it should be stressful does not mean they will perceive it as such. They simply don't have the abstract thinking skills adults do in this regard. I also think its important to remember that shyness does not equal anxious. I was always happy playing by myself and so was not anxious. Now, as an adult, is when I feel anxious because I really can't just go play by myself if I want to have a family, friends and a job. Some shy kids (or slow to warm!) are also anxious, but not all.

    Now, on to how it feels to be that child. I do remember this period in my life, not with trepidation or cold sweats, but with matter of factness. I don't remember my parents even explaining anything to me. I did know at least one person in each school and I am guessing that helped. I just remember knowing that we were moving to a new house in a new place and I had to go to a new school and that was that. I went to the new school and played with their toys, had snacks and took naps.

    So, I guess my experiences are validating what Barbara is saying. Stressful unsettling stuff happens all the time, but its probably not going to leave life long scars or be nearly as unsettling to a kid as it feels like it might be to you. Keep it short, sweet, and honest. Don't let her buy into your anxiety or give the impression this is something to be anxious about. I'd also see if you can arrange a playdate with a kid in her new class. As a parent, I also found that kindergarten brought out all the unknown kids in the neighborhood--we met lots of people waiting for the school bus. And even adults like to know at least one person when they start a new job!

    Good luck. Hope this was helpful.

    Posted by ash August 3, 12 03:18 PM
 
2 comments so far...
  1. I know of some kids who were allowed to start a school year in their new school before the move, or finish a school year in their old school after the move. If this could logistically work, it might be worth asking about. It never hurts to ask.

    Posted by AP August 3, 12 01:47 PM
  1. Well, its rare that I can comment as a parent and as a child! My family moved when I was in nursery school (preschool for the under 40 set) and I was also very shy--I had trouble speaking to adults who were not related to me as well as other children, which put me in an extreme category of shyness. On top of that I went not to 2 different schools but 3 all in the same year (we lived in 3 different places).

    First, as a parent I think children respond to your anxiety, so its important not to pass your worries onto them. Just because this feels like it should be stressful does not mean they will perceive it as such. They simply don't have the abstract thinking skills adults do in this regard. I also think its important to remember that shyness does not equal anxious. I was always happy playing by myself and so was not anxious. Now, as an adult, is when I feel anxious because I really can't just go play by myself if I want to have a family, friends and a job. Some shy kids (or slow to warm!) are also anxious, but not all.

    Now, on to how it feels to be that child. I do remember this period in my life, not with trepidation or cold sweats, but with matter of factness. I don't remember my parents even explaining anything to me. I did know at least one person in each school and I am guessing that helped. I just remember knowing that we were moving to a new house in a new place and I had to go to a new school and that was that. I went to the new school and played with their toys, had snacks and took naps.

    So, I guess my experiences are validating what Barbara is saying. Stressful unsettling stuff happens all the time, but its probably not going to leave life long scars or be nearly as unsettling to a kid as it feels like it might be to you. Keep it short, sweet, and honest. Don't let her buy into your anxiety or give the impression this is something to be anxious about. I'd also see if you can arrange a playdate with a kid in her new class. As a parent, I also found that kindergarten brought out all the unknown kids in the neighborhood--we met lots of people waiting for the school bus. And even adults like to know at least one person when they start a new job!

    Good luck. Hope this was helpful.

    Posted by ash August 3, 12 03:18 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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