“New year- New School” is the mantra of the young parents nowadays. The sprouting of new schools every year with attractive advertisements are confusing parents to have a settled mind to continue with the present school of their children. Adding to this roller- coaster the influence of the NRI family member has its own toll. Looking back into my yesteryear we had only one English medium school and one state Telugu medium school in our small Township. Rural areas had only Zilla Parishad school. And home was the only early childhood care and education institute those days. The rich had the privilege to send their children to a convent to get his early childhood education. Urban education starts from kindergarten and there was no
-K system. I was one of those privileged child to have a convent education for a period and shift to KG. A shift from rural to urban. I was put in kindergarten though I was supposed to be in class 1 to catch up with the English medium students. I was feeling like an Alien I felt detached and isolated. But Thanks to the support of my cousins and make me feel home and put me on the fast track. Though it took me a while to board the urban train, I grew up having friends and getting known at our school. My next 10 years passed unnoticed, with all the childhood fun. But the hammer of THOR struck me when I switched my school once again from urban to rural this time, after a couple of years. New world, new people, and new surroundings. I was in a Junior college. I faced problem communicating with my mates, Telugu decorated with local slang was the language to communicate. Finding it difficult to use slang while communicating I was titled "The Silent guy",,.All this and more which made me dull and not a participator. It took me two years to talk to my classmates as a friend. I realized the shift of school or community has a long lasting effect on the psychology of the child.
It is never easy to leave behind your loved ones, your friends, people who have been your constant support and just jump into a new world full of strangers. It sounds like one of the worst nightmares!
But this is what children go through during the transition period when they shift schools. Many a time they are neither prepared to leave behind their old friends nor are they mentally ready to make new ones. Switching schools is much harder nowadays than adults think it to be. A shift of school can affect the child's mental and emotional state very deeply. The onus is on the parent as well as the teacher to know and understand the mental and emotional state of that child and support them. Changing schools can be a wrenching social and emotional experience for students, say researchers from Warwick Medical School in the U.K. And the legacy of that struggle may be psychosis-like symptoms of hallucinations and delusions. Dr. Swaran Singh, a psychiatrist and head of the mental health division at Warwick, became curious about the connection between school moves and mental health issues after a study from Denmark found that children moving from rural to urban settings showed increased signs of psychoses. The authors also noted that the students had to deal with not just a change in their home environment, but in their social network of friends at school as well. Singh was intrigued by whether school changes and the social isolation that comes with it, might be an independent factor in contributing to the psychosis-like symptoms. Based on their analysis, says Singh, switching schools three or more times in early childhood seemed to be linked to an up to the two-fold greater risk of developing psychosis-like symptoms such as hallucinations and interrupting thoughts. “Even when we controlled for all things that school moves lead to, there was something left behind that that was independently affecting children’s mental health,” he says. Factors such as a difficult home environment – whether caused by financial or social tension, or both – living in an urban environment, and bullying contributed to the mental health issues, but switching schools contributed independently to the psychosis-like symptoms. Singh suspects that repeatedly being an outsider by having to re-integrate into new schools may lead to feelings of exclusion and low self-esteem. That may change a developing child’s sense of self and prime him to always feel like an outlier and never an integrated part of a social network; such repeated experiences of exclusion are known to contribute to paranoia and psychotic symptoms. The negative emotional experiences students go through in trying to adjust to new schools can have physiological consequences as well. “Repeated experiences of being defeated in social situations leads to changes in the brain and in the Dopaminergic system,” says Singh. That makes the brain more sensitive to stress, and stress, with its surges of cortisol, can lead to unhealthy neural responses that can contribute to mental health problems. “Something about chronic marginalization and chronic exclusion is neuro-physiologically damaging,” he says.
It is therefore extremely important that parents choose a new school wisely for their kids. If the child is old enough to give his/her opinion, then they should definitely be a part of the school selection process.
This helps the child feel positive about the new school because his opinions and choices have been respected. It’s also a great idea to give the child a tour of the school beforehand so that they do not find the environment completely alien on the very first day. It’s even better if the child can strike a friendship with someone in the school before the term starts. All these efforts make the child feel protected instead of vulnerable and help in coping with the change around. Parents’ duties do not end by just getting their children admitted to the most reputed or the most expensive school in town. In fact, that is just the beginning. The real job is making sure that their children go through this transition period with a smile on their faces!