Back-to-school time can be a source of anxiety for many young children. The anxiety may stem from any number of things such as separation from parents or caregivers, worry over making new friends, or simply not knowing what to expect. While it is perfectly normal for a child to feel anxious as the beginning of the school year approaches, parents can help to make the back-to-school transition a little easier with these tips.
Visit the school with your child. Many children's fears and worries stem from the unknown. By making your child familiar with his new environment, he'll be put more at ease about what to expect when he arrives the first day. If your school holds an orientation, be sure to attend with your child. You might also want to visit the playground several times before school begins.
Plan for your child to meet the teacher. Many schools provide short meetings between students and teachers that help both to get acquainted. If you are unable to meet with your child's teacher - talk to your child about the teacher's role at school.
Plan playdates with classmates prior to the start of school. Being familiar with other students in the classroom might not only help your child separate from you at drop off, but can ease your child's worry about finding "someone to play" with on the first day.
Read children's books that focus on "what to expect" in preschool or kindergarten. Children's books provide a perfect starting point for many important conversations. Select books that show the routines and activities in a day at school. Books with characters who are experiencing the same emotions as your child would also be beneficial.
Have a discussion with your child about what to expect the first week. Talk about everything and anything related to school: what time school starts, what time it ends, transportation to and from school, the types of activities to expect, how to be a good friend - nothing should be off limits!
Keep your cool. Back-to-school time can be stressful for parents, too. Try to keep your emotions in check because they can be contagious. If you are experiencing anxiety about the beginning of the school year, it is likely your child will pick up on it and mirror your experience.
Get excited about the beginning of school. Help your child associate positive experiences with the beginning of the school year by planning something fun or exciting to do together. Maybe you'd like to pick out new school clothes, host a back-to-school party, or go shopping for school supplies with a friend.
What can you do once school time is here?
On the night before the first day:
- Do a quick run through of exactly what your child can expect over the next 24 hours
- Organize for a smooth morning (pick out clothes ahead of time or pack a lunch, if needed)
- Read a special story before bed
- Have your child name fears/worries if there are any, and talk about how you can combat them
- Name 5 things together that are going to be great about the first day of school
On the morning of the first day of school:
- Have a simple routine visible for your child to follow (e.g., eat breakfast, brush teeth, get dressed, pack backpack, catch the bus)
- Make the day special by taking that "first day" photo or making a "first day" video
- Give your child reassurance that school and learning are fun
If your child is still exhibiting anxiety and having trouble adjusting after the first few months of school, be sure to talk to the school counselor or your pediatrician.