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PARENTING : New School, New Worries : Making the transition means a journey into the unknown. Unfamiliar people and surroundings take some getting used to.

August 26, 1994|ADRIENNE WIGDORTZ ANDERSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Adrienne Anderson is an Agoura writer.

Josh Noland, 10, hasn't started school yet but already worries about the prospect. "I'm nervous that kids won't play with me because I'm new," he recently admitted as he toured Germain Street Elementary School in Chatsworth, where he'll enroll next month.

He worries partly, he said, because he's transferring from a private school, and he has heard that public-school students fight a lot.

It's common knowledge that being a new kid can be tough, whether the change of status is a result of a move, the switch from private to public, or middle school to high school.

In general, change, while a challenge for everyone, said Elaine Massion, an elementary school psychologist with the L.A. Unified School District, is "especially hard for children because they lack the experience and coping skills developed over years. Changing to a new school disrupts their routines and friendships--the world as they know it. Don't be surprised if little ones regress, or older children act out."

To help kids with the transition, Linda Noland, Josh's mother, advises parents to remember that "the more you become familiar with a situation, the better you feel." She found that visiting the new campus alleviated many of Josh's anxieties, as did plans to attend new-student orientation.

Experts also recommend that new students and parents meet with the principal, counselor and teacher to discuss a child's specific concerns. Parents should inquire, too, as to whether there are any subjects their child should brush up on, or new challenges he or she could practice working on.

"If your child has a learning disability, let the school know," advised Massion. "Arrangements can be made for special services."

Other sources of information for both parents and children are school newspapers, other parents, and officers of the Parent-Teacher Assn., who can answer a wide range of questions about the school.

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As to the challenge of making friends--one of the keys to a smooth transition--it can help for a youngster to join a sports team or other extracurricular activity at the new school. Parents can discuss with their kids strategies for making friends and can even arrange "play dates" with the children of parents they meet at orientation.

At some schools, teachers will sometimes assign a "buddy" to a child who has difficulty making friends, especially if a parent requests it.

Also important to a youngster's adjustment is observing how students dress in a new environment, since anyone who departs from the norm can become a target of teasing. Jan Arney, for instance, after a recent move from Northridge to Boulder, Colo., recalled how her 11-year-old daughter was ridiculed by new schoolmates because she wore skirts and ate tuna sandwiches. (All the other girls wore pants and seemed to think tuna was for nerds.)

But while acceptance is precious, parents should be on the lookout for children who seek it at any cost, perhaps falling in with a crowd whose values they don't share. Grown-ups can help, advises Massion, by being aware of their children's special interests and guiding them into groups that focus on those interests.

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Parents can also be of use by maintaining an upbeat attitude throughout the period of change. Brenda Winter, assistant principal at Lawrence Middle School in Chatsworth, counsels moms and dads that their attitudes set the tone for a successful transition.

"Don't transmit your fears to your child," Winter said. "Present a positive picture. Perhaps the new school offers classes unavailable at the old school. Plus, your child is starting with a clean slate. Here's an opportunity to become whatever he wants."

Gabrielle Sein, 13, of Calabasas agreed. "Although I realize high school won't be as nurturing, and I'll have to be more independent," she said, "I'm looking forward to going to Louisville (High School in Woodland Hills). I've always been shy, but now I have a chance to try to be more outgoing."

Experts caution, however, that in their fervor to help children adjust, parents should not encourage kids to break their ties with the past. Noland, for example, made sure that Josh, before he moved on, had a sense of "closure with the old school. We took pictures of Josh's friends and had everyone sign the yearbook. We also wrote down addresses and phone numbers so Josh can keep in touch."

Equally important is that children--and parents--have realistic expectations about the changes they face and try not to panic if the initial adjustment is bumpy.

"We are living in an age when there's constant change," said Winter. "Anytime we get the chance to teach our children to be flexible and confident with changes, we are doing them a favor."

How to Relieve 'New Kid' Jitters

* Allow a young child to bring a transitional object to school if it isn't against school rules. "A favorite stuffed animal may be just the thing to give security to your youngster," said Elaine Massion, an L.A. Unified school psychologist.

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