Easing Back To School Jitters

Taken from scholastic.com

Going from long, lazy summer days back to the rigors of a classroom can be a bumpy road for your child. It’s normal for her to experience a range of emotions about returning to school. In fact, school tops the list of worries for kids ages 7 to 12, says Carol Falender, Ph.D., a psychologist who has worked for over 20 years with children and their families.

Your first step to addressing these fears, says Dr. Falender, is to try to bridge the gap between summer activities and the new school year. If your child read a lot over the summer, remind her that “all that reading is really going to help you with your assignments.” If she spent the summer swimming laps, you can say to her “your new strength will really help you during after-school sports.”

Though each child responds to going back to school differently, you can take steps to address jitters and make the transition time smoother. Could one of these issues be causing your child’s fears?

Life Changes
Academic Challenges
Social Worries

Life Changes
Starting at a new school can present an especially daunting challenge. Similarly, if your child has recently experienced an upheaval at home, such as moving or divorce, he may be especially susceptible to feeling stressed about returning to school.

If this is the case for your child, “keep your eyes and ears open and really listen,” says Adele Brodkin, Ph.D., a child development consultant and author. Asking open-ended questionscan give your child the space to figure out his own feelings. If he expresses a specific worry, you might say something like: “What makes you feel that way?” and see where the conversation leads.

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Academic Challenges
A new grade brings new challenges. Perhaps your child will be expected to do homework or write a research paper for the first time. With fears of not measuring up academically, the best defense is a good offense. Getting organized and establishing reassuring routines can go a long way to making a child feel competent.

With a young child, help her to:

• Review where the school bus will pick her up or how she’ll get to school

• Visit the school grounds and if possible, make an appointment to tour the inside

• Write an introductory letter to her new teacher

• Calmly review safety procedures such as how to cross the street and avoid strangers

With a child of any age, encourage him to:

• Lay out his clothes for the first day

• Help prepare a tasty lunch (then tuck a secret note inside for him to find)

• Gather supplies and pack his backpack a few nights before school starts

• Set up an organized study area at home

Rumors of a particularly hard teacher may fuel fearing or disliking a new teacher. Do help your child keep in mind that one person’s dreaded teacher can be another kid’s favorite. While it’s okay for your child to express her dislike of a teacher, she should be expected toremain respectful. You can encourage her to be open-minded and approach this as an opportunity to help her learn how to deal with a person she finds difficult. Listen to her issues and plan to attend parent-teacher night to get your own take on the situation.

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Social Worries
A new class roster can mean adjusting without friends who have provided a social base in previous years. Try to present this as an opportunity for your child to widen his group of friends, rather than a tragic loss of familiar faces. If possible, get the class list and set up a play date before school starts, so that your child will have a new friend to look for on the first day. Establish time for him to catch up with old friends too.

A new school or classroom may spark concerns about finding friends at all. An outside class or hobby such as ballet or a sport can provide a conversation starter and the opportunity to meet kids outside your child’s usual circles. Talking to her about other challenging situations that she successfully navigated also boosts self-esteem.

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Getting Help
If your child’s anxiety impedes his day-to-day life, Dr. Brodkin recommends asking yourself two questions:

• How much of a change is this behavior from the norm?

• How long has this changed behavior been going on?

Most back-to-school anxiety is anticipatory. If the level and type of anxiety seems a marked departure from your child’s usual behavior and lasts well past the beginning of the school year, consider seeking outside help. Start by talking with his teacher. Next, a school counselor or psychologist can provide valuable tips and resources. Anxiety disorders do affect children, notes Dr. Falender, and are often overlooked because such children do not tend to act out.

Be Supportive
It is normal for every child to react to going back to school in her own way. This can make it tempting to apply your own experience to your child’s life. Although harkening back can provide insight, don’t forget that your child is not you. Be calm and matter of fact. Listen and provide reassurance, but try not to heighten anxiety with old memories and good intentions.

In the end, the most important tool you can use is to know your own child, “and most parents do,” says Dr. Brodkin. Observe the situation, but also try to keep it all in perspective. For most kids, back-to-school jitters will melt away as easily as summer slips into fall.

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