Going to school or preschool for the first time or starting a new school is about learning to cope with transitions. While most children are resilient and adjust easily, starting school can trigger anxiety in some children because of their fear of the unknown or their preference for routine and order. Some children are also distressed when they sense their parents’ anxieties.
Before School Starts
Plan ahead for the first day of school to give your child time to adjust and make the transition easier:
• Buy a few new school supplies to give your child a sense of a fresh beginning.
• Walk with or drive your child to school a few times before he begins attending.
• Tour the school building together to help orient your child.
• Read books about school, and have your child talk to older siblings or neighborhood kids about school.
• Introduce some “school-type” activities at home, such as story, snack and rest time.
The First Day
The first day of school can make children especially jittery since they must meet a new teacher and familiarize themselves with a new classroom. Try these suggestions to prepare your child:
• Discuss the day’s schedule the night before.
• Select or talk about what clothes your child will wear the night before.
• Decide on snacks and set aside lunch money.
• Make sure your child is rested.
• Rise early enough so you and your child can get ready calmly.
• Make sure your child eats a good breakfast.
• At school, help your child find his assigned desk, cubby or floor mat. Be sure he knows where the bathroom is.
• Keep farewells brief and develop a routine. If your child cries as you leave, say a special good-bye phrase, give a hug and remind her that you’ll be back. Prolonged farewells can be hard on you and your child.
Building a strong partnership with your child’s school will give him a good start in school.
• Contact the teacher at the beginning of the school year and let him or her know that you care about your child’s growth and development at school. Let the teachers know about any family problems, such as illness or divorce.
• Nurture relationships among you, your child and the teacher. Attend parent-teacher conferences.
• Advocate for your child. Each child is different, and no one knows your child as you do. Trust your instincts.
• Arrange play dates with classroom peers and car-pool with other parents to help your child make friends.
• Attend parent orientation or the open house. Join a school council.
• Volunteer in the school to familiarize yourself with your child’s new environment, routine and friends.
• Deal with negative feelings. Don’t be surprised if parting becomes difficult again after months of easy good-byes. Peer relationships, homework difficulties or a misunderstanding with a teacher can make children anxious about going to school.
• Discuss any problems with your child’s teacher. There may be a simple solution, such as allowing the child to have a longer time to complete a difficult assignment.
• Arrange a meeting with the school psychologist if your child has difficulty coping.
• Do not belittle your child’s fears or push your child to do something she is not ready to do.
• Assure your child that being anxious about change is normal. Let him know you will do your best to listen to and protect him. Do not tell a crying child to grow up or to be a “big” girl or boy.
• Remind your child that with any change there are opportunities. She may develop new skills and make new friends.