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Changing Schools

Created on August 5, 2017. Last updated on February 15th, 2020 at 02:32 pm

Changing schools is a common situation; only 30% of students remain at the same school through fourth grade. Various circumstances can prompt a change in schools such as a caregiver’s new job, military deployment, change in marital status, or need for a better educational setting.

The reason for changing schools may influence how the child responds. For example, moving from elementary to middle school with the rest of one’s classmates may be less stressful than moving to a completely new school in a different area. If there are other, co-occurring stressors, such as divorce, the change may be more difficult. No matter the reason, changing schools is likely to bring a mix of emotions, such as sadness, excitement, and ambivalence. Helping a child to recognize and understand these different emotions, in addition to offering support, can help things go more smoothly.


How Will Changing Schools Affect My Child?

When a child moves to a new classroom, there may be differences in the curriculum, as well as differences in teaching styles and expectations. Talking with the child’s teacher(s) about their educational history and abilities can help teacher(s) best meet the child’s academic needs.

The need to make new friends can be anxiety-producing. This may be further complicated if the social landscape is different at the new school. There may also be new/different pressures related to social media, school activities, even riding the bus. Asking the child about their interactions can help you support them as they get to know their new peer group.

Changing schools will also bring changes to extracurricular activities, the commute to school, and daily routines. Awareness of the numerous ways youth can be affected by school change will help you be sensitive to their needs.

Although adjusting to a new school can be tough in the short-term, finding the right school will contribute to positive academic and social development, and the process can teach valuable skills for adjusting to new circumstances.


How Can I Help My Child?

  • Plan ahead. You can make the transition easier by knowing details about the new school and helping the child to feel secure. It can be nice to visit the school, to go through the daily commute, and to learn about classes and activities ahead of time. It can also be helpful (if possible) to make plans for the child to see his/her friends from the previous school to allay fears about losing valued relationships and provide support as they establish new friendships.
  • When you talk to the child, be open. Try to frame the change as a fresh start, but also acknowledge that changing schools can be scary. This can be challenging when you are also managing a move or other stressors, but it’s important for the child to feel supported.
  • Coordinate with teachers, school officials, and counselors. Establishing a positive relationship with school staff can help smooth the transition and may provide insight into aspects of the child’s adjustment of which you are not aware.
  • Encourage the child to sign-up for extracurricular activities. This will promote social inclusion, feelings of connectedness, and academic achievement.
  • Pay attention to mood and behavioral changes. For example, irritability, trouble focusing, appetite changes, sleeping too much or too little, or withdrawing from others may be important indicators that a child is struggling. Some mood/behavioral changes are to be expected, but if they persist, the child may be in need of extra support. 


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Bradley, C. C. (2009, July 6). Notre Dame research shows switching schools affects student achievement. Retrieved from

Catalano, R. F.; Oesterle, S.; Fleming, C. B.; Hawkins, J. D. (2004). The Importance of Bonding to School for Healthy Development: Findings from the Social Development Research Group. Journal of School Health, 74 (7) p. 252-261.

Chen, W.; Gregory, A. (2009). Parental Involvement as a Protective Factor during the Transition to High School. Journal of Educational Research, 103 (1) pp. 53-62.

Hamm, J. V.; Farmer, T. W.; Dadisman, K.; Gravelle, M.; Murray, A. R. (2011). Teachers’ Attunement to Students’ Peer Group Affiliations as a Source of Improved Student Experiences of the School Social-Affective Context following the Middle School Transition. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 32 (5) pp. 267-277.

Patton, G. C. et al. (2006). Promoting Social Inclusion in Schools: A Group-Randomized Trial of Effects on Student Health Risk Behavior and Well-Being. American Journal of Public Health 96 (9) pp. 1582-1587.

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