Q: Our son Nate has started his freshman year at our local public school, but he comes home every day and asks to change schools. He says he doesn’t fit in there. I don’t know how to handle this request as I have no experience with this. My dad would have just told me to tough it out if I had told him that I wanted to go to a different school. What are good reasons to help a child change schools? If there are good reasons to make a change, how would I go about helping my son find a school that is a better fit?
A: The most common reasons to switch schools that I found in my research include:
- the child is unhappy at the current school
- the current school doesn’t seem a good fit for the child
- the child has stopped progressing or developing
- the child’s safety is of concern
- COVID-19 procedures at the school don’t seem adequate
- the school is not proving to be in the child’s best interest.
When a child asks to change schools, it requires a good bit of research to determine if this switching is a good idea or not. Start by taking the child’s feelings into consideration. Ask questions about their relationships with their teachers and other staff, whether they think they are getting a good education, whether they feel safe at school, who they eat lunch with and who they like to hang out with. Ask your child to tell you what they would miss about their current school and what they would be glad to leave behind. List these things in one column.
In another column, add details based on your research of other possible schools. Take a look at their curriculum to determine what they might offer your child that will interest him and benefit him. Can your freshman take college courses or occupational courses? Look at the class size. Is the teacher in the classroom or are lessons virtual? What activities or clubs are available?
You should also meet with the current teachers, the school counselor and the principal of the school your son currently attends. These folks may be able to identify what is causing your son to want to change schools and whether these problems can be addressed at his current school.
Another factor to consider is timing. It is still fairly early in the school year, which does make it a better time to transfer now rather than later. If you are transferring out of your neighborhood school, however, you will need to check transfer dates and deadlines for the new school. These are often at the beginning of the calendar year.
In the meantime, do your research. If you have identified a possible school for your child to transfer to, ask the principal whether you and your son can visit and meet with one or more of the teachers. While on your visit, learn about the classes and extracurricular activities. A tour can also give prospective students a better idea of whether or not it is a good fit for them.
If your son transfers schools, realize that although it’s a fresh start, it can be scary too. Enlist the help of faculty and offer lots of support at home. A good teacher can help a student find ways to connect as well as to understand what is expected of him to be successful in school. Likewise, if your son remains at his old school, you should also offer lots of support and work closely with the teachers and staff to help him find ways to develop a stronger sense of belonging.
Betty Richardson, PhD, RN, CS, LPC, LMFT, is an Austin-based psychotherapist.