You may want the summer to stay forever, but many of you have already written a partial list of school supplies and purchased new shoes and school clothing for your children.
But are they emotionally ready? Most preschool and many elementary-aged children are faced with some degree of anxiety when they begin the new school year. “Who will be my teacher? Will I make new friends? Will my new classroom be comfortable? Will I make the grade? What if I miss the bus? Are my new clothes in style?” Here are some tips to aid in making your child more comfortable as he or she transitions from the lazy dog days of the summer to the energy a new school year provides.
- Remove the fear of the unknown. Many children are nervous only because they don’t have answers to their worried questions. Start talking about school even before September comes around. If it’s your toddler’s first year of school, make sure to attend orientation or meet the teacher before school begins. Many elementary schools don’t offer orientation, but there is no reason you can’t give your child a preview of the building in the days before school. If your school allows you in, you can show young elementary school children their classroom, the school lunchroom, the bathroom and other places the child may be nervous not knowing. It is also helpful to talk to your children about your own school anxiety and feelings and even fun when you were a kid. It helps them feel more “normal.”
- Stay Positive. Thankfully, most of my kids are still too young to read this, so I can confess right here that I am also anxious every year when my children start school. Will their teachers be nice to them? Will they encounter bullying? Will they make the grade? I wait in trepidation for them to come home. I need to paste a smile on my face and try to exude calmness for their sake. A positive role model helps children be confident and positive. Be careful not to convey anxiety to your children and make sure you give them something positive to think about during the day when they are nervous. It can be a happy memory, a special dinner that will be waiting for them, or something exciting that will be happening in the future.
In my home, I instituted a private trip to the ice cream store the first day of school. My son goes up a grade only after Succos, so he goes then, and my daughter gets her trip the day she begins school in September. They tell me they often think of that on the way to school or when they first meet their new teacher and are anxious. I get to hear everything the child went through that day and spend private time with him or her.
Another idea that can make children feel good about themselves and look forward to school is to invest in something new that is meaningful to the child (no, not new shoes!) like a new folder or backpack or inexpensive gadget to be used at school so that your child focuses on something positive instead of on his fears.
- Make sure your child eats and sleeps well. While many parents relax their parenting style during the summer (just as they relax everything else), it is detrimental to your children when they enter the school year sleep-deprived and sugar-loaded. For at least an entire week before school begins, it is best for your children’s adjustment that they be well-rested, structured, and eat nutritious food so they can cope with the workload and stress that a new school year brings.
- Role-play with your child. Children often feel more confident to handle new situations when they have a plan and have role-played what they will be going through. You can allow your child to play the part of her new teacher or a bullying classmate and then model the appropriate behavior to help them remain calm and focused. Discuss techniques for not losing control when upset, for dealing with a demanding teacher, and for making new friends even if they are shy. All these scenarios can be role-played.
- Discuss some school anxiety through storytelling. Even adults appreciate a good picture book. Start next week by gearing bedtime stories towards school-related topics. Books can trigger open and honest discussion and you may be introduced to fears you didn’t even know your child had. Two great titles for preschoolers are Owen by Kevin Henkes and I Am Absolutely Too Small for School, by Lauren Child (A Charlie and Lola Book). Elementary school-aged children may enjoy these: Mind Your Manners In School(a story compilation) and The Recess Queen by Alexis O’neill and Laura Huliska-Beith. Ask your local librarian for more.
Written By: Nissi Unger