Whether you’re a kindergartener or beginning your high-school career, the first day of school can induce anxiety. It’s a normal reaction for kids when faced with a new schedule, an unfamiliar routine and a faster pace to the day.
Every child reacts differently to this transition. Some kids, especially as they mature, become go-with-the-flow types and take new experiences in stride. But most kids – especially the young ones – find themselves dealing with varying levels of anxiety as the first day approaches: “Will I remember where my classroom is? What happens if I miss my bus? Will other kids like me?”
While some anxiety is to be expected, no parent wants it to interfere with learning, family life or fester as the first month of school progresses. Here are some basic strategies to minimize the first-day jitters:
- Encourage dialog with your child. If you sense some nerves, let them know it’s a normal feeling – one that’s probably shared by the majority of their classmates.
- Remember, your kids are watching your behavior. If you’re acting nervous or harried, they’ll most likely do the same. Since children take cues from their parents, your smile, calm demeanor and quick good-byes will reassure and lower the stress level.
- Help your child overcome worries by using problem-solving skills. Find out the prevailing concern and help find solutions, such as rehearsing how to get to the school bus at the end of the day. Or using word games to remember their teachers’ names.
- Accentuate the positive. Ask your student: “What are the three things you're most excited about on your first day?”
- Create a holiday atmosphere. Put up streamers and balloons. Have grandparents call to wake the kids up and offer a hearty “good luck!” Prepare a special after-school treat.
At least a week before school starts:
- Gradually move up bedtimes by 10 minutes each night until you reach the optimal school-night bedtime. That will eliminate the abrupt “school-time” lights-out anxiety the night before.
- Test-drive the school-year schedule during the last week of break. Familiarize your kids with the wakeup routine and prepare them to head out for school at a set time each day.
- Build excitement by shopping for that one special outfit or backpack. Let your student focus on that key item, not their nerves.
- Conduct dry runs from home to school and back again. Stop by the school a few days early and ask to trace your child’s route to their classrooms, cafeteria, playground and after-school pick-up location.
- And, yes, talk with your child about the restroom! You’ll find that access to it is one of their top concerns. Practice the route to the nearest one. Being able to use the restroom when they need to shouldn’t be a point of contention between teacher and student. If your little one seems particularly anxious about it, have your child’s teacher offer reassurances.
Remember that communication with your child is the best tool in easing anxiety. Let your student know that unfamiliar encounters with new people, places, things and experiences are all part of growing up. And don’t forget to keep your child’s teacher informed about anything that might be dampening their first-day mood.