From Kindergarten to College

Your Guide to Navigating School Transitions

By Christa Melnyk Hines

Transitions are tough on kids and parents. Here's what you need to know to help your child successfully navigate school milestones – and what to watch for each step of the way.

Welcome to kindergarten

This year, your child will begin to develop a sense of independence and self-confidence. To ensure long-term academic success, foster resilience and a growth mindset.

"Allow them to make mistakes, to keep trying and reward the effort not the action," says Tara Walrod, a school counselor. For example, instead of telling your child how smart they are, you might say: "You worked so hard and did it by yourself!"

Tips for success:

What to watch for: Each evening, ask your youngster questions about their day, like: "What did you talk about during sharing time today?" If your child seems unhappy or lagging behind their peers, check in with the teacher.

Find your middle school mojo

Middle school can be challenging as kids adjust to multiple teachers and a larger school environment. For the most part, Jim McMullen, a former middle school principal, says kids manage the transition better than their parents might expect, especially when they take advantage of fifth grade school visits and orientations to reduce their apprehension.

"Be there to support them and process with them at night and give advice. Kids pretty quickly become acclimated with the school and do really well," he says.

Tips for success:

What to watch for: Tune into your child's social media use.

"Parents have to know what their child is looking at and posting – and not gaining self-esteem from 'likes,' but instead from making moments at school," Tara says.

Time for the high school hustle

As your student enters high school, they'll begin to face more pressures related to time management, academics, extracurriculars and their social life. An active school life and a healthy support system is critical to your high schooler's wellbeing.

"Through high school, kids should love going to school, whether their connection is with their friends, teachers, athletic team, band or theater," Jim says. "Kids who are engaged do really well academically and socially."

Tips for success:

What to watch for: "We know that high school is a super stressful time for our kids so make sure they have strategies in place to calm anxieties and stress," Tara says.

Continue nurturing your relationship with your teen through conversation. Model and encourage stress management skills like deep breathing exercises, quiet breaks, periodic disengagement from social media, physical exercise, and time with friends and close family.

Moving onto college

Begin researching higher education options between your child's sophomore and junior year of high school. Plan visits to colleges or technical schools either the summer before junior year or during the junior year.

"These visits are your first opportunity to get to know the school and see if it might be a good fit, and this will help narrow down the options," says Alice Arredondo, Ed.D., a college admissions director.

The transition into college life can take about a year, as your student learns to live independently while managing their time between school work, their social life and
other interests.

Tips for success:

What to watch for: "If you notice that your child isn't responding to any messages, seems depressed or anxious when you call, experiences significant weight changes or seems overly stressed, you should take the time to see them in person and better assess the situation," Alice says. "A small dose of these things may be normal during the college transition but excessive deviations from who you know your child to be should be concerning."

If your student hasn't signed a Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) waiver, you won't be able to access their grades, finances, personal well-being or any information outside of a public directory. You can ask academic advisors or campus health offices to check on your young adult, but they won't be able to provide information back without a waiver.

"This is why it's important to establish an open line of communication with your child before they leave
for college."

Contact your child's teacher, school counselor and/or your family physician if you have any concerns about your child's wellbeing throughout any stage of their school life.