BY SARAH LYONS
As kids pack up their new backpacks, sharpen their pencils, and try on their new fall clothes, most start to get excited about the first day of school. While the beginning of the school year is an exciting time and represents a new start, some kids may feel anxious about the unknown. A new teacher, new classmates, or a new school can cause a lot of stress and anxiety. Using some simple strategies, parents can help prepare their children for the first day and ease their concerns.
Start with the basics – When children are well rested and have full tummies, they are better prepared for a busy day. Start adjusting bedtime and wake up times a week or more in advance so the child has time to adjust to the new school routine. A healthy and filling breakfast starts children off on the right foot. When these needs are met, parents and kids can work together to tackle school anxiety.
Talk it through – Allow your child to talk about his feelings. Help him list the specific things that he is worrying about. Instead of brushing aside worry, let him know it is natural to be nervous and you will help him adjust to a new school. Try reading some age appropriate children’s books about the first day of school jitters.
Discuss the plan – Walk your child through what she can expect on the first day. Discuss her transportation and daily schedule at school. If the child has specific worries, try to address when that will happen during day. For some, role playing can help them feel more comfortable. Begin the day as you would a typical school morning. Prepare breakfast, get dressed, and pack bags as if you are going to school. Act out the child’s day and “play school”. Take turns being the teacher. Making it a game can make the child more comfortable when the real day approaches.
Focus on the positive – Often parents are just as anxious about their child going off to school as the student. Focus on the positive when you talk to your child about school. Make it exciting by having your child pick out a new backpack, school supplies, and an outfit for the first day. Encourage older siblings to help by talking about the fun things they will experience at school. Ask your child what they are excited about. Watch your own anxiety on the first day and try to behave in a calm and positive way.
Take a tour – If the school has a “Meet the Teacher” night, take advantage of this time to show the child the classroom, become familiar with the surroundings, and introduce them to the teacher. This will allow the child to feel more comfortable in their surroundings on the first day.
Encourage friendships – When a child recognizes a friendly face in the classroom, it can make them feel much more at ease. Encourage your child to meet other children in the neighborhood that will be in the same class. Host a play date or a class picnic for the kids.
Discuss with teacher – If anxiety persists after the first few days of school, contact the teacher and share your concerns. She may have some suggestions on how to deal with student’s anxiety and will be aware of the situation. Often times, a teacher who knows a child is dealing with anxiety will give them extra support in the classroom.
Reward for bravery – The first day of school can be a stressful time, reward your child for their bravery with a small toy, a special dessert, or a trip to their favorite park. It takes a lot of courage to try something new and it should be recognized.
Sarah Lyons, mom to six children, loves all that goes along with a new school year. This year she will send her daughter off to kindergarten and we are experiencing a little anxiety and a lot of excitement.