As exciting as the back-to-school season can be, it can also drum up lots of anxiety in both kids and parents awaiting the first day of class. If you have young children who are just starting school, it can be a bittersweet moment to send them off to the classroom for the first time. Your child may have mixed feelings about the experience as well. For some children, the idea of going to school for the first time or heading back to school can be downright nerve-wracking. As a parent, there are some helpful strategies you can implement at home to make the transition to the classroom a smooth one.
Recognize the signs of stress.
It is sometimes difficult to recognize stress and anxiety in young children since they will have a harder time expressing exactly what’s wrong. If your child is nervous about school starting, they may have more frequent behavioral outbursts or complaints of stomach aches or headaches in the absence of an actual illness. Some kids may express their stress through changes in sleep patterns or repeated questions seeking reassurance, such as “What if I don’t know anyone in my class?” or “What if I don’t like my teacher?”.
Address your child’s concerns directly.
When your child is showing anxiety over the school year starting, it’s important not to dismiss their fears without any confrontation. For example, if your youngster is expressing worries about going back to school, you may be tempted to simply say “There’s nothing to worry about.” or “Nothing bad will happen on your first day of school.” However, a more effective solution is to approach the situation more directly. You may do this by practicing a morning drop off at school or visiting the classroom ahead of the school year starting, if you’re able to do so. When your child does take part in these practice runs, be sure to offer praise and congratulations for them pushing back against their fears.
Get back into the school schedule before school starts.
Children respond well to routines. Unfortunately, the summer break is usually a huge disruption to your household routine. Bedtimes may become more flexible and mornings might become more hectic without sending the kids off to class. Instead of waiting for the first day of school to get back into the swing of things, start setting more reasonable bedtimes a week or two before the new academic year starts. Getting adequate sleep and practicing waking up at the right time will help reduce your child’s anxiety and better manage stress.
Highlight the positives.
There are a lot of things to worry about when school starts, but there are also many positives to consider too. You might remind your child that they will see friends more often during the school year or that they will have fun field trips to look forward to. Going shopping for new clothes and back-to-school supplies can also be a fun motivator to get excited about school rather than nervous.
Schedule playdates with peers.
If your child hasn’t had much interaction with classmates over the summer or if it’s their first year in school, it can be beneficial to schedule a few playdates with neighborhood peers before classes starts up. These smaller, supervised social interactions can add some comfort to a crowded grade-level, where your child might otherwise feel some social anxiety.