As summer slips away, your child may be getting a little nervous about the new school year. Here’s how to battle those first-day jitters.
by Heidi Smith Luedtke, Ph.D.
You remember what the buildup to the first day of school felt like, that potent mix of anticipation and dread, excitement and fear. It should be no surprise, then, that your child may be getting nervous as the new school year looms closer. Some kids worry about finding their classroom, getting along with a new teacher or making new friends. Others worry about finding the bathroom, navigating the cafeteria line or getting on the right bus.
Academic pressure only increases kids’ anxieties further.
The transitions are harder for some students than others. “Some kids breeze into a new classroom as if they did it every day,” says early childhood education specialist Maureen Taylor. “Others are anxious and withdrawn whether they are 5 years old or 11.”
As a parent, you can help your child confront and conquer those first day jitters. Here’s how.
Find friends. Having friends and feeling accepted is a very important part of the school experience. “Don’t make a kid go in cold,” Taylor says. Even one familiar face can go a long way to increase kids’ confidence. Whether your child is going to a new school or just a new class, Taylor says, it’s worth the time and effort to help your child connect with a classmate.
Check yourself. “Sometimes kids pick up on parents’ worries about sending the child to school,” says clinical psychologist Lawrence Levy. Monitor your own anxiety and be vigilant about the signals you send. Meeting the principal, teacher, and other parents can calm your fears and prevent them from amplifying your child’s schoolrelated stress.
Team up. “Make your child a participant in backtoschool preparations, instead of doing things for him,” Levy says. Shop together for supplies, clothing and athletic gear. Let your child express his personal style and favorite hobbies with a special backpack or book covers. Kids gain a sense of control and independence when they assist with back-to-school prep.
Talk it up. The stories kids tell themselves about their newschool transition can have a major impact on their emotions. Create a sense of anticipation and excitement by marking the days off on a calendar each day. Use optimistic mental images, words and phrases to give your child’s story a positive tone.
Stack the deck. Work with your child to list appropriate gettoknowyou questions and personal facts she can use during early (and sometimes awkward) peer interactions. Favorite movies, hobbies, sports and magic tricks are interesting things to share with new friends. Knowing what to say eases fears about the social scene.
Stop By the school. It’s natural for kids to feel anxious when they don’t have a clue about how their new school looks and feels. Walk around the buildings and grounds with your child before the big day so that it feels more familiar. If you’re lucky, you may run into school staff, who report back to work before classes begin. This can be a great time for a casual runin with teachers and other staff such as coaches and the office personnel.
Anticipate academic challenges. The level of difficulty, class schedule or homework load may be different this year. Tune into kids’ concerns. Help your child create a plan to keep track of assignments and complete work on time. An academic plan of attack can relieve the performance pressure your child may feel.
Standardize your schedule. Kids will have an easier time adjusting to the new school year if they are wellrested and alert. As summer comes to an end, start going to bed and waking up earlier. Prepare kids for busy mornings by practicing getting up, dressing, and eating breakfast at the time they’ll be getting ready for school. If your meals have been grab-and-go all summer, get back to something more structured, especially a healthy breakfast.
Be a player. Pack a picnic and go to the school playground just for fun. Spend unstructured time in your child’s soontobe stomping grounds. Familiarity with the outdoor environment and play equipment will help kids remember that school really is a fun place to be.