My son is finishing 5th grade and will be going to the middle school next year. It’s a totally new building and he is already talking about all the things that will be “different”. He struggles in general with things that are different, but is getting better with acknowledging and accepting that things can’t always be exactly the same. Do you have a suggestion for how we can help him see that things will be different but that it will be okay?
Kay in Austin, TX
Thanks for asking this question, as I’m sure that many parents are thinking about the same issues at this time of year. Moving to an entirely new building and grade level can be a stressful experience, especially for kids who struggle to understand that “different is okay”. Actually it sounds like one of the things your son is working on is understanding the concept of “same-but-different”; that things can be different but fundamentally the same. There are a number of things you can do to help strengthen “same-but-different” thinking, and I’ll share one specific example related to your question.
When I have a client transitioning to a new building I focus on spotlighting how things between the familiar building/school experience and the new one are different and the same. Sometimes we make a list of things they have in their current building, such as drinking fountains, a gymnasium, cafeteria, bathrooms, etc. Then they go through the new building and use the sheet to mark off which things are in that building. This helps them see that many of the things are present in both places. You can also make a column on the sheet for noting things that are different about the drinking fountains, bathrooms, cafeteria, etc. Again, the focus here is on spotlighting that things can be the same and different at the same time. One client I did this with recently noticed that there were drinking fountains in both buildings, but in the new high school they were automatic! He was able to compare that to the ones in his middle school that you had to press the button to operate. These are small things, but they help strengthen the same-but-different thinking that is essential for understanding and coping with changes in life.
Obviously there are many strategies to support a child with transition to a new building, including taking some tours ahead of time, meeting the new teachers/staff, spending time on the playground over the summer months, etc. Taking time to think about and prepare for the change will definitely be time well spent. Hopefully you can use the above idea not just to support the current transition, but to help develop the kind of thinking that is needed for managing change in general.
Good luck with the transition!