I have been teaching at an elementary school for 18 years. Every fall just before a new school year begins, I get a phone call or an email from a parent who is concerned because their child is nervous about beginning school. It’s a common concern. I’ve found that many children have the same concerns. Will I make friends? Will I be able to do what the teacher asks of me? Will I be able to find the bathroom? Will my parents miss me? Will I miss my parents?
If you want to ease your child’s back to school anxiety, use the tips I share with parents over the years. These are tips that I have used with my two sons as well.
Read Books about School
As former students ourselves, adults often assume young children understand what school is “all about.” But in reality, many students, especially those without older siblings, have not had school experiences yet and do not know what to expect. Reading stories about school before the first day can allay some fears and answer some of the questions they have. Check out a list of books at the end of this article.
Meet the Teacher
Make an appointment to meet the teacher! During your visit, take some pictures around the classroom so it is a familiar space on the first day. You can snap a picture of your child’s work spot, cubby, or playground. As a teacher, I’ve had some kids ask to take a picture with me before they start school.
My eldest son was very nervous about starting at a new school in the middle of the year. We visited the school and the classroom before the first day and spent some time talking with the teacher. He fell in love with her the minute he met her.
I snapped a picture of the two of them and it is still on his wall in his room!
Take a Tour
If you haven’t already, contact the school and arrange for a tour of the campus. Often times, an older student volunteers to be a tour guide so they can point out important spots to new students. For example, which bathroom is closest to the classroom, where lunch is eaten, and how to find the nurse. If your child will be in before or after school care, be sure to check out those areas as well.
My strongest memory of a student with back to school anxiety was when a boy joined our first grade class mid year. It was very obvious how nervous he was.
I made sure on his first day that I had a specific buddy picked out for him who was reliable and knowledgeable and who would guide him throughout the day and help him feel welcome and part of our group.
Pack a Family Photo
Young children miss their parents when they are at school. Take a family picture and print it out. Place it in your child’s backpack and if they get sad or lonely, they can take a quick peek at the photo to help them through the rest of the day. Students often wonder if their parents will miss them as well which can cause anxiety for some children. Read, The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn and send your child off with his or her own “kissing hand” each morning.
Set a Playdate
Some schools provide class lists before school begins. Find out if any of your child’s classmates live in the area and make a playdate. Do this a few times before school starts. John Hopkins’ Children Center article, “5 Tips to Ease Back to School Anxiety” states that “the presence of a familiar peer during school transitions can improve children’s academic and emotional adjustment.”
Make a big deal out of school supply shopping (or even back to school clothing). Read the list together, plan where you will shop and give your child a few items from the list to be in charge of or on the look out for. Allow them to pick out their own backpack or lunch box. Taking part in the selection of these items gives the child a sense of control and ownership. Tell your child that the supplies and the backpack are special and can only be used for school. This will give them something to look forward to and be excited about.
Talk with Your Child
The most important thing you can do to help with the transition is to “normalize for your child that everyone feels nervous before school, even teachers!” according to Dr. Tamar Chansky in an interview with Huffington Post. Chansky goes on to suggest teaching your child about “worry thoughts” and “wise thoughts” can help. A teacher’s worry thought might be, “Oh no! Will I do a good job teaching the children, will I make it fun, will I run out of chalk?” Then talk about what the “wise thought” that can replace the worry thought; “I’m a good teacher, I’ll do a good job, it’s always fun to teach kids, and don’t be silly there is always more chalk in the supply closet!
Talk with your child about what to expect, answer their questions and share stories about your own experiences in school. Once the first week of school is over, most children settle in nicely. Keep the conversation positive by focusing on your child’s hopes and dreams for that school year. What do they really want to learn? Make some goals for the year and write them down. Revisit the goals in a few months time. Read, This School Year Will Be the BEST! by Kay Winters for some ideas and download a FREE printable to go with this book.
Boys vs. Girls
A great way to get boys talking about anxiety or stress is to talk to them while they are moving! Try talking while playing catch or riding bikes. Also, when talking with boys, sit beside them. Girls really appreciate and need eye contact, but with boys, side by side conversations are best!
“I Will Be Back”
Reassure your child that you will be back at the end of the day. This may be the biggest fear of all for some children. What if my parents forget to come to get me at the end of the day?? This can be terrifying for a young child. Make sure your child understands that you WILL be back. Visiting the spot where you will pick them up before beginning the first day can be very reassuring.
By taking these simple steps, you may be able to alleviate many of your child’s fears about the first day of school. And by working through your child’s fears well before school begins, will make the rest of your summer less stressful and that first day of school free from back-to-school jitters!
Books About Going Back to School
Does your child still have the jitters about going back to school? Add these books to the end of your summer reading list and ease those nervous, back-to-school feelings.
Books about Kindergarten
- Kindergarten, Here I Come by DJ Steinberg
- The Night Before Kindergarten by Natasha Wing
- Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten by Joseph Slate
- Planet Kindergarten by Sue Ganz-Schmitt
- Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come1 by Nancy Carlson
Books about School in General
- First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg
- Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes by James Dean
- A Fine, Fine School by Sharon by Creech
- This School Year Will Be the BEST! by Kay Winters
- School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex
About the Blogger
Stephanie is an Educents Blogger, mother of two boys, a seasoned teacher, and the creator of Boy Mama Teacher Mama. Stephanie shares activities that can be used in the home or in the classroom with a special emphasis on issues related to raising boys. When not teaching, creating, crafting or blogging, she enjoys spending time with her boys, quilting and baking. You can follow Boy Mama Teacher Mama on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google +, and BlogLovin.