For parents, the first day of school can be a nice reprieve – a time to get back on schedule and have more predictable routines. But for kids, the first few days and weeks of school can be filled with apprehension and anxiety.
There are many ways parents can help if their child is nervous about the changes of a new school year. Here are some tips from Francesca Varallo Sims, PsyD, director of education and training for Baptist and Wolfson Children's Behavioral Health.
Talk about it.
Getting kids to open up can be tricky, at best. Try to find a relaxed, quiet time when you can give your child your full attention. Have regular conversations with your children about their thoughts and feelings related to school, classmates and what they’ll learn this year.
You can also ask open-ended questions, like, “Which friend are you most excited to see again?” or “What’s the best thing about school?” These types of prompts usually elicit positive responses and give your child things to look forward to.
However, don’t force the discussion. Most parents can tell when kids are ready to stop talking; take your cue and resume the ongoing dialogue at another time. The important thing is they know you are here for them.
Make a plan.
Actively preparing for potentially stressful situations can help kids (and parents) feel more confident when facing new experiences. Planning ahead can help improve children’s emotional and cognitive abilities, tolerance for stress, overall mood and attention, and focus.
Even if school has already started, help organize your child's backpack so he or she can easily find what they need. For middle- and high-schoolers, it’s always a good idea to create separate notebooks or binders for each subject and teach them to use a planner so they know when tests and projects are due.
It’s also important to make sure your kids have a restful night’s sleep, a nutritious breakfast, and stay hydrated throughout the day. You can send a water bottle to school with your child, if it’s allowed. If you want to provide a little encouragement throughout the day, put a nice note in their lunchbox so they know you’re thinking of them.
Share a personal story.
We’ve all had times when we’ve felt stress in a school situation. Tell your child about a time when you were nervous and how you overcame it.
Don't change everything at once.
To ease the transition to a new school, stick to familiar back-to-school routines, like having breakfast together or a reward snack after school. These are also good times to chat about their day and find out about concerns.
It also helps for parents to stay informed about the school’s current events and share them with kids, so everyone feels connected with the new setting and community. Make sure you’re signed up for email communications, newsletters from the teacher and school, alerts from parent organizations, and social media pages for the school.
Read books about handling school worries.
For younger kids who are shy or having a hard time adjusting to the routine of school and being away from home, parents can try reading back-to-school-themed books together. Dr. Varallo Sims recommended ones like, “The Kissing Hand,” or “First Day Jitters.”
These stories give children reassurance that many others experience “jitters” this time of year. It also gives them a platform to openly share with you how they’re feeling and to get support from you, reemphasizing that you're always here for them in a time of need, no matter where they are.
To help you check in on your kids and how they're adjusting to the new school year, use these Wolfson Children's On Our Sleeves back-to-school conversation starters. For more free resources to promote children's mental wellness, visit wolfsonchildrens.com/onoursleeves.