Ready or not, summer break is coming to a close and the back-to-school season is upon us. While the beginning of the school year might conjure up nostalgic memories for parents, your student may feel quite differently. Yes, it can be a time full of excitement and new opportunities, but it can also be a time full of nervous anticipation. Whether your child is anxious about starting a new grade, transitioning to a new school, or struggling to adjust back into a set routine after a carefree summer, a new school year is a time of many unknowns. Addressing these anxieties with your child using any of the strategies below can create a smoother transition and help set them up for a successful school year.
Be An Empathic Ear
Ask your child to share their concerns about the new school year, and don’t be dismissive of these worries. Showing them that you care and want to hear about what’s bothering them will not only make them feel more secure but also provide you with relevant information going forward. Validating their nervous emotions and expressing your confidence in their ability to persevere can also help build your child’s confidence. Together, you may even be able to problem-solve some of their specific concerns, like not knowing what to bring or wear. Being a good listener is also a great first step for helping your child express and even process their emotions about the new school year. Keep in mind that these do not have to be long, drawn-out conversations but rather small exchanges that can be peppered throughout the day or week.
Prepare a Set Schedule
Establishing and even practicing a school routine before the first day may help eliminate some of the guesswork involved with the big transition. Discuss, plan, and (if possible) practice what your household’s new morning and nighttime routines will look like. Depending on how your child learns, having visual reminders of the schedule may be especially helpful. Ensure your child is prepared for the first day by discussing what it might look like for them by going over any provided school schedule or information about their classes or teachers. Fostering familiarity with what their coming days and weeks will look like can make the unknown seem much more approachable.
It’s natural to be nervous at the beginning of the school year-not just kids, but parents too! Even if you’re feeling anxious about what the school year may hold for your child, try to keep a cool head. Model the behavior you want to see in your child by trying to identify the positives of the situation and persevere through the more difficult aspects. To keep your stress level manageable, try to implement small self-care activities for yourself throughout the week if possible. This is also behavior you can model for your child, or even encourage them directly to participate in.
Remind your child that they won’t be the only ones feeling a bit nervous on the first day. Many of their peers will likely be feeling just as overwhelmed. Even teachers report first-day jitters- after all, they’re meeting a whole brand new group of kids, too! Depending on your child’s reading level, there are several books available to help emphasize this point ( “First Day Jitters” by Julie Danneberg; “How to Get Your Teacher Ready” by Jean Reagan). Assure them that everyone around them will be experiencing some level of nervousness those first few days. You may even encourage your child to make this a conversation starter with their peers (again, depending on age level).
Back to Basics
Ensuring that your child’s physical needs are met plays a critical part in how they’re able to interact with the world around them. To the best of your ability, encourage your child to get a full night’s sleep and eat a complete breakfast before the school day. Prepare them for their day by making sure they have any necessities they may need, such as a water bottle, snack, or specific school supplies. While it may sound simple, these basic steps can put your child in the right headspace for success.
It Takes a Village
Don’t hesitate to reach out to your child’s teacher, team leader, or guidance counselor if you think your student may need some on-the-ground support. Preparing them with information about your student’s nerves can help ensure a better day for everyone. Besides, keeping an open line of communication with the professionals working with your child can provide further insight into how their school days are going. Given that educators will likely be overwhelmed themselves those first days, it may also be helpful to consider if there is a special friend or older sibling/family member at your child’s school who might also be able to check in with them throughout those first few days.
Plan For Positivity
You’ve acknowledged and prepared for the stress and anxiety associated with the beginning of the school year, but have you planned for anything fun? Consider providing your child with small treats throughout the first day or week whether that’s including a special snack in a packed lunch, eating out at a s favorite restaurant, or having a playdate with a friend. Anyone who has ever had a hectic work week knows how important a restorative weekend becomes. If possible, plan on spending time with your child over the weekend doing something you both enjoy.
When To Be Concerned
Of course, every child is different, and for some these steps may not be enough. You may want to consult with a pediatrician or therapist if your child displays any of the following behaviors:
- Separation anxiety at school drop-off persists after the first several weeks
- A pattern of headaches or stomach aches that prevent them from attending school for the full day
- Associating school with feelings of distress and discomfort
- Continued resistance to school that significantly impacts the whole family