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 for them. But by using some of these simple strategies, you can help better prepare your kids for their first day of school and ease their concerns.
Start with the basics - When kids are well-rested and have full tummies, they are better prepared for a busy day. Start adjusting their bedtimes and wake-up times a week or more in advance of the beginning of the new school year so everyone has time to adjust to a new routine. And feeding your kids a healthy and filling breakfast each day starts them off on the right foot. When these basic needs are met, you and your kids can work together better to tackle any school anxiety.
Talk it through - Allow each child to talk about their feelings about the first day of school. Help them list the specific things they are worrying about. Instead of brushing aside their worry, let each of your kids know that it is natural to be nervous, and if they are attending a new school this year, you will help them adjust. Try reading some age-appropriate children’s books about the first-day-of-school jitters.
Discuss the plan - Walk each child through what they can expect on the first day of school. Discuss their transportation and daily schedule. If a child has specific worries about something in their schedule, address it and come up with a solution with their input. For some young kids, 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 help your child feel more comfortable when the real day approaches.
Focus on the positive - Often parents are just as anxious about their children going off to school as the students. When you talk to each child about going to school, focus on the positive. Make it exciting by having your kids pick out new backpacks, school supplies, and outfits for their first day. Encourage older siblings to help the younger sibling by talking about the fun things they will experience at school. Ask your kids 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 your kids their classrooms, become familiar with the surroundings, and introduce them to their teachers. This will allow your kids to feel more comfortable in their surroundings on the first day of school.
Encourage friendships - When a child recognizes a friendly face in their classroom, it can make them feel much more at ease. Encourage your children to meet other children in the neighborhood that will be in the same class as them. You might even want to host a playdate or a class picnic for the kids.
Discuss with teacher - If your child’s anxiety persists after the first few days of school, contact their teacher and share your concerns. The teacher may be aware of the situation and have some suggestions on how to deal with your student’s anxiety. Oftentimes, 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 this accomplishment should be recognized.
Sarah, mom to six children, loves all that goes along with a new school year. This year, she will be sending her daughter off to Kindergarten and is experiencing a little anxiety, but mostly a lot of excitement!
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