It's back to school time - but will your child be going back to the same school? Perhaps they weren't happy at their old school because of bullying or poor teaching. Perhaps the family has moved following a new job. Or perhaps you and your partner have separated and you've had to move to a different area.
If that's you, try not to worry too much. Children are adaptable and being 'the new kid' won't last long. Here's how to help your child settle in:
Meet the teachers
The unknown is always scary. But schools are usually very clued-up about helping new arrivals to settle in these days. You'll be encouraged to visit the school together and talk to teachers and the head. You might also be offered settling-in sessions at the end of the summer term. Some schools operate buddy schemes for new pupils and even for parents, so you might be asked if you want to be contacted by a family in the area to meet up before your child starts. Take any opportunities you're offered.
Making friends can happen anywhere – on the football field, in the art room, or over a game of chess. So encourage your child to sign up for after-school or lunch clubs. "This then gives your child an opportunity to mix with people who are like-minded," says Naomi Richards, children's life coach and author of The Parents' Toolkit: Simple and Effective Ways of Getting Your Child to Be Their Best. "It may also be smaller groups, rather than 30 in a classroom. That's a much better way of getting to know people."
Your child is bound to have a lot of questions - after all, every school layout and routine is different. So keep talking to them. "Getting a child familiar with a new school means that it's a lot less daunting for them," says Naomi. "Younger children worry a lot about practical details. Where will I leave my lunchbox? How will I know when playtime is? What if I want to go to the toilet? So encourage your child to ask their new teacher these questions when they go and visit, and answer as many as you can yourself before they start."
Take your time
It takes time to settle into any new situation, as anyone who's ever started a job will know. So don't expect your child to instantly slot into a social circle. "When it comes to new friends, children need to think about what makes a good friend and what kind of people they should be looking to be friends with," advises Naomi. "Get them to talk to and get to know lots of people, and try not to cling to the first friendship they make. It might not be the one they hoped it would be."
Respect old friends
While we know that it's generally true that children will 'make plenty of nice new friends', dismissing old school friends can feel hurtful. They have smaller worlds and special relationships loom larger - 'best friendships' can have a passionate intensity. So don't discourage children from seeing or contacting their old friends. You'll soon get a feeling for those friendships which will last and those which will naturally fade away.
Make a team effort
Your child isn't the only one who might feel daunted! A new school means that you'll have a new circle of parents to chat to at the school gate, a new schedule of after-school activities and new teachers to meet. But if you make the effort to have a positive attitude, get involved and invite people round, you'll not only be setting a good example to your child, but you'll be helping her make friends, too. "Be enthusiastic and try different things - and your child will too," says Naomi. "Get into their school life. Tell them that you want to do this just as much as your child does - that you want to do it together."
And finally...talk to your teens
Changing secondary schools can be a lot harder than changing primaries, but there's plenty you can do to let your teen know that you're there for them. "Most teenagers want to fit in with a group," says Naomi. "This is very different from primary school, which is a lot more free-flowing. You're also going through a period of hormonal change where you might not like yourself or feel like you fit in. So have an open-door policy. Encourage children to bring friends round. Don't get in the way - give them more space. Let them find their feet but at the same time, keep the channels of communication open and let them know they can come to you. We don't want to tell teens what they need to do - but we can remind them that they have made friends in the past, they can do it again."