Back to school anxiety strikes many children – some because they are entering a new school and others because it’s the start of a new year. While much of our children’s school experiences are out of our control, there are some measures we can take to ensure the transition is as smooth as possible.
This year, my children will be attending a new school. My eight-year old is suffering from extreme nerves and cries about not wanting to go to school. His former school was a safe haven for him. He knew what to expect. He knew the teachers, administrators and families who were part of that school. The school itself was like an extended family.
I had to step into his shoes in order to really think about what this change felt like to him. I can’t wait for the first few weeks of school to pass and for my son to realize he is going to be just fine at this new school. In the meantime, here are some thoughts for helping him (or your children who may be experiencing anxiety about returning to school).
The first thing I started to do is to create a consistent rhythm. During the summer weeks, it’s easy to let go of the routines our children count on during the school year. A child who is anxious about the start of school can certainly benefit from entering that school rhythm a little early. This means normal bedtimes, days that are not overscheduled, and other habits that encourage peacefulness.
I’ve taken out our relaxation CD’s. We were listening to them as a family before bedtime during the last school year. I think it will be helpful for the eight-year old as well as for the other children in order to foster a good night’s sleep. I will also offer soft music to play in his room once we say good night, a light on in the bathroom for additional comfort, and maybe even a special something to sleep with – or in (in the case of our eight-year old, he likes to sleep in his dad’s flannel PJ’s).
A call to the school will also be an important step. While there is an open house and meet the teacher before school starts, it may be valuable for nervous children to visit school prior to the crowds that will be present for the open house. Several years ago, I realized that my son needs to “know a place” before he feels comfortable there. A visit to the school may help ease his discomfort and allow him to feel familiar with the new surroundings. We will also pick up a school map so he can study it at home.
I’m also hoping to connect with a few families who have children the same age as my son. For all children starting a new school, it can advantageous to have at least one familiar face when they walk into the classroom or on to school grounds. Contacting the school to see if there is a welcome committee through the parent-teacher organization is another good way to make connections before the summer ends.
We also started a list of things we are worried about. My son is a strong writer and is often able to write what he cannot say. Other children may benefit from a conversation about worries – or from drawing pictures of what makes them nervous about starting at a new school. Either way, if you are able to get specific about what your child is worried about, it will be easier to help your child arrive at some kind of resolution. We shared things such as making new friends, hoping we like the teachers, and wondering if he’ll be the smartest kid in his class.
The beginning week of school and the week prior to school will be made as fun and celebratory as possible. We will let our children decide what to serve for dinner. They will get a new shirt to wear on the first day of school (they had uniforms at their last school), and maybe I’ll spend a little more on school supplies in order to buy that really, cool notebook. A special token – a coin, a charm, a small note – tucked in their pants pocket may also help a child throughout the day if nerves arise.
With a former career as a therapist, I know to continue to watch my child and his anxiety through the first weeks of school. If it persists; if he has moments of shutting down during the school day; if the teacher expresses concerns about being socially withdrawn – than it is time to take him to go see a professional who can help him get over the hump. Sometimes our children – though nervous at first – appreciate the opportunity to speak to someone other than us about their concerns. Not to mention – a professional (and, in this case, I’m mom – not a professional) knows how to gently pry open those tough to get to spots, how to ease the nerves out, and introduce new coping techniques that wouldn’t be as cool if mom or dad had tried to teach them.
Transitioning to a new school can be difficult. Often times the anticipation of the first day of school is more difficult than the actual day. Whether it’s the normal anxiety of a new school year or the transition to something entirely new – we want to help our children glide through apprehensions as effortlessly as possible.