What you can do to help your little student feel better about the coming school year.
Even if you don’t know exactly why your child is anxious, here are a few things you can do to help him or her feel better about the coming school year:
• Talk about your first-day-of-school experiences. If you don’t remember, have your kids ask their grandparents what they remember about your first day of school. “It almost doesn’t matter if the experiences were positive or negative,” Cohen says. “It’s sharing them that’s important because it makes your child see that this happens to everyone.”
• Don’t assume your child is anxious. Physiologically, there is little difference between anxiety and excitement, Cohen says. Just because you remember being anxious about school doesn’t mean that your child is. Asking about the bus 100 times could be enthusiasm instead of anxiety.
• Make sure your child knows at least one person at her new school. If your child is starting kindergarten this year, get a class list from the office and arrange a couple of playdates with kids from your child’s class. Knowing that there will be a familiar face at school helps to ease first-day jitters.
• Visit the school and do a test-run of the route to school. This helps to minimize the fear of the unknown.
• Cherish the end of the summer. Even for children who love the classroom, going to school is a draining process. Cohen suggests that parents use the time at the end of the summer to fill the child up – not by scheduling as much as possible, but by making time to just hang out and spend time together.
• Role-play. Play “school” with your younger children. Let them be the teacher – you be the student. Make sure that you include a drop-off and reunion scenario in the day. With older kids, try to get them to talk to you about what they think might be hard situations in the coming year, then have them do a trial run with you.
• Use humor. This works with all kids, but especially well with middle-school students. A well-placed hand on the hip and an exaggerated, exasperated question such as “Is there anything you can think of that may be only half-bad this year at school?” can go a long way to breaking up the tension your child might feel about returning to school.
If your child seems to really loathe going back to school, there may be something a little deeper than first-day jitters. If your child has a history of social and academic struggles, talk to the teachers, principals and guidance counselors about what kind of help is available.
Updated August 2012