East Hampton students start school on Aug. 30 and Portland students begin on Aug. 31. For many, this is an exciting time to reunite with friends, meet new teachers, learn and have fun. But for others, the start of a new school year invokes fear, panic and anxiety. As parents, we always want what’s best for our children and I know that when my child hurts, I hurt right along with him/her. The school experience is supposed to be positive so we would never want our kid to have negative feelings toward school. So what steps can we take to ease the transition for our children and alleviate any concerns they may have?
One of the most important things we can do for our children is first to listen. Often times we assume we understand our child’s fear but it is important to really get to the heart of their concerns. Ask specifically what they are worried about. Once you have a better understanding of your child’s anxieties and fears you can start to give your support and input. Role-playing can be a great way to help your child deal with social fears. Giving examples of words to use and ways to act and react is a great way to give your child some confidence and boost his/her self-esteem in dealing with potentially anxiety-inducing environments. It is also important for your child to know that as their parent you are there for your child. Sometimes a child may fear that when they tell their parents, their worries may be written off as insignificant or unimportant. Let your child know that you are always there to listen and give support no matter how big or small the problem may be.
Equally important is to remind your child of the fun in school. Seeing old friends or meeting new ones can be exciting. I often tell my children that “It’s always a good thing to meet new friends,” and now they tell me that same piece of advice at times. And if the prospect of seeing and/or meeting friends isn’t cutting it with your child, there’s always the lure of those new school supplies! Shopping for and using brand new markers, sporting a new backpack and selecting a special snack for the lunch box are sometimes enough to balance out any fears the child has. This goes back to the days of parenting a toddler – distraction!
There are a few other tips that can help allay any concerns your child may have and reduce anxiety. One of these is to visit the school and meet the teacher if possible. That big school seems a little less scary without a lot of other kids in it and with mom and/or dad by the child’s side. Last summer before my child’s entrance into school, we received a tour where we got to visit the classroom and see the teacher and it was a great help! If your school does not conduct a tour of their own call the school office and see if you can bring your child to take a look beforehand. Another idea is to start practicing the school day routine early. The practice may make your child feel more comfortable going through those motions on the actual big day! A third idea is to leave your child a note or symbol of love and encouragement in their lunch box. This little token can remind your child that you are there for them and wishing them nothing but the best.
And finally, relax! We’ve all been there and had some school nervousness. Talk to your child, be supportive and remind them to smile! Sometimes life looks different when we have a smile on our face!