New experiences are necessary for people to learn and grow. Very few of us could forget our first date, our first car, or our first job. But new experiences can also be stressful. Learning how to handle that stress is a vital life skill that may begin, for most kids, on their very first day in the classroom.
So what can you do to help your children if they’re stressed about starting school?
Watch And Listen
Many children, especially young ones, are just learning to identify the emotions they’re feeling. They may not be able to articulate their fright, anxiety, or uncertainty. As parents, it’s our job to pay attention not only to what the child says but also how he or she behaves. Take note if he or she is exhibiting any of these signs of stress:
- Clingy or whiny behavior
- Complaints of stomach or headaches
- Interrupted sleep, nightmares
- Anger, tantrums
- Change in eating habits
- Self-comforting, such as thumb-sucking, hair pulling, etc.
If your child is showing signs of stress, set aside some uninterrupted, unhurried time to gently encourage them to articulate what’s at the root of the nervousness. He may be worried about something as simple as wetting himself, or something as complex as not knowing any of the other children. Addressing smaller issues can often alleviate a portion of the stress, if you can drill down to them. Even if you can’t, there are tactics to help alleviate general first-day-of-school anxiety.
Prepare And Practice
Change is scary, and so is being in a new and unfamiliar situation. It helps to wear away the edges of anxiety by preparing and practicing for what’s coming.
- Familiarize your child with the new space by calling the school and see if you can arrange a visit to the building, the classroom, or even a quick meet-and-greet with the teacher in the weeks before school starts.
- Prepare for the new rise-and-shine schedule by adjusting bedtimes at least a week before school, so they won’t wake up cranky and out-of-sorts.
- Practice the get-up-and-go so that the transition routine is familiar and runs without a hitch.
- Practice or create a good-bye ritual, perhaps one you’ve used when leaving your child with a grandparent or caretaker.
Calm And Control
Dealing with the negative is important, but so is emphasizing the positive. Talk to your child about recess, the school playground, the toys in the classroom, the songs he’ll learn, and the games he’ll play at gym. Try to lift his spirits by:
- Allowing him, within reason of course, to choose his first-day outfit, in order to give him a sense of control.
- Make school-supply shopping fun by letting him pick out the funky pencils, superhero notebooks, and quirky lunchboxes.
- Allow him to bring along a small comfort-object like a stuffed animal or a small toy.
Keep in mind that if your child is particularly sensitive, your own natural hesitancy or uncertainty about this transition may add to their stress. It’s important to behave calmly and confidently about what is to come in his new big-kid schedule. Your children will follow your lead.