Easing children’s anxiety before first day of school
IN with a new school year, OUT with back-to-school anxiety
Special Back-to-School column
by DORENE ROSS, Ed.D
Professor, College of Education, University of Florida
(For children and their parents, the transition from summer to new school year is important–and sometimes a bit stressful. Change can be exciting and the new year offers many opportunities for children. But even positive change often creates anxiety. For children of any age, it is important to stress the opportunities and excitement of the new school year, but also to listen to and help lessen the anxieties. Perhaps these tips will help.)
TIPS FOR EASING ANXIETY IN YOUNG CHILDREN
Anxiety can be a bigger factor in the first school experiences of young children. Truth is, though: parents also often feel anxious. The following tips may help both parents and their school-aged children:
1) REASSURING TALK BEFORE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL. Talk to your child ahead of time about what to expect. Stress what will happen at the beginning of the day (drop-off time) and when you will return. Try to talk about time in “kid-friendly” terms. For example, “You will have lunch, naptime, play time and then Mommy/Daddy will pick you up.”
2) KEEP YOUR OWN ANXIETY IN CHECK. Be careful not to convey your own anxiety. You might feel emotional taking your child to his/her very first day of school but try to be calm and reassuring for your child. If your child cries when you leave (and many children do), reassure yourself that your child will calm down quickly after you leave. Teachers are quite skilled at distracting children with interesting activities.
3) EARLY CHILD PICK-UP IN FIRST WEEK. Be a little early for pick up on the first few days. You are teaching your child that you always come back. If you are even a little late, it can make your child anxious.
4) WATCH FOR ANXIETY RELAPSE. Don’t be surprised if anxiety appears on day two or three. Sometimes young children are very excited to go to school for the first day or two but are surprised that they have to go every day. Remember young children do not have a good sense of time so saying “we’ll all be home together on the weekend” may not be enough to comfort them. Try some concrete representation of time. For example, put out five blocks on Monday morning and put one block away each evening. Say, “When all the blocks are gone, we’ll all stay home together.”
BACK-TO-SCHOOL ANXIETY CAN STRIKE OLDER CHILDREN, TOO
Even older elementary children may feel nervous or anxious about the new school year and separating from parents. Parents might try the following:
1) THINKING OF YOU. Give your child some reminder that you are thinking about him/her. A simple note to keep in a pocket or placed in a child’s lunch often helps.
2) GOALS SHIFT FOCUS. Talk to your child about some key accomplishment he/she will achieve this year in school. This helps the child focus on the role school plays in helping him/her learn and grow.
3) FRIENDS INDEED. Remind your child of school friends.
4) DON’T MISS OPEN HOUSE. Take your child to open house before school begins so the teacher and classroom are familiar. Notice something about the room and/or teacher that will appeal to your child and comment on that.
5) ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE. Don’t overreact if your child tells you the first day was “awful.” Respond in a way that allows your child to share concerns, which may range from anxiety about not having made a friend, to concern about the length of the school day or a feeling that the teacher “doesn’t like me.” After you listen to the concerns stress that “it is hard adjusting to a new place and new people” and ask the child to tell you one good thing that happened. If the child’s anxiety lasts beyond the first couple of weeks, or is severe enough that it causing you to feel concerned go talk to the teacher. You and the teacher both want your child to have a great year. Together you can help your child adjust.
Homework habits key to good start academically
At the beginning of the year it’s also important to develop homework routines that will help your child succeed. Here are some strategies for success:
1) HOMEWORK TIME & PLACE. Establish a homework time and place that is consistent. Find the time that works for your family but enforce this time for ALL in the family. Turn the TV off and have everyone do their “work.” Younger children can do “homework” too. Establishing these habits early is important.
2) NO HOMEWORK? THEN READ. If the child has “no homework,” use the time to read together. Children need routines. Knowing that homework time is consistent on every school night is an important element of school success.
3) CHECK FOR NOTES FROM SCHOOL. Check your child’s backpack or notebook for notes from school and homework assignments. Young children need help learning to be organized. Help them look for their assignments, and return their assignments to their notebook or backpack so they will have it the next day.
4) STAY NEARBY DURING HOMEWORK. Know that being nearby during homework time is more important than your help. Children should be able to do their homework independently. Being nearby communicates that you think the homework is important and your presence is reassuring to your child.
5) HOMEWORK PROBLEMS? LET TEACHER KNOW. If your child cannot do the homework, talk to the teacher. Homework that is too hard frustrates children and can make them feel inadequate. Teachers want to help your children succeed, so if there are problems be sure to communicate that right away.
EDITOR/MEDIA RELATIONS: Larry Lansford, director, news and communications, UF College of Education,352-273-4137; firstname.lastname@example.org