It is that time of year again! School supplies are on sale, mailings arrive with teacher assignments, summer reading is frantically being completed. Where did that math packet go? If your house is like many, parents are counting the days until the children finally go back to school while the children have forbidden the word “school” be mentioned in the house.
For children, this time can trigger some significant anxiety. This may take on many forms. Some children are able to articulate their fears while many are not and their behavior changes as a sign of their distress. Children often complain of stomach aches or headaches in reaction to stress.
Anxiety at the beginning of a new school year is a common occurrence. As a former teacher, I can tell you that even the teachers have some anxiety about the new school year. Anxiety in itself is not a problem. When the anxiety causes distress for children and their families, it then becomes problematic. The following suggestions may help ease your child’s fears so that he or she may begin the new year ready for success:
- If this is a major transition year (beginning kindergarten, moving to middle school or high school, or beginning the school year in a new school due to a family move), be sure that your child has a chance to spend time inside the school prior to the first day. This may be at a meet-the-teacher event, or you can drop by the school in the week or two leading up to the first day and talk with the office staff to arrange a guided tour of the building. If your child is continuing in the same school, make sure he or she meets the teacher prior to the first day.
- Ask your children what they are afraid of. Help them problem solve ways to handle situations if the “worst case” happens. You want to avoid reassurance such as, “Everything will be fine,” or “don’t worry.” Instead empower your children by helping them to feel that they have the ability to accomplish difficult tasks.
- Check with other parents in the neighborhood to find some of your child’s friends who will be in the same class(es). Arrange for a group of children to travel to school together for the first few days.
- Have your children help choose their school supplies. Make sure that you provide as many items on the school’s list as possible. If there are items which you are unable to provide, remind your child that many children will come to school without all of their supplies on the first day.
- Create a designated homework area for children to complete their work each day. Have all of your children work together to make the place a special and inviting one. Include all the school supplies necessary to complete most tasks. Make this a quiet space and fill it with fun school supplies and decorations in order to be more inviting.
- Prepare the night before. Choose special clothes that make your child feel secure, make sure school supplies are all packed and ready to go, pack a special lunch for the first day, discuss who will be making sure your child gets to school safely and who will be picking your child up and bringing him or her home.
- Try to be home at the end of the first day of school. Remind your child that you will be there and can’t wait to hear all about the day! If you are unable to be there, designate a special family member or close friend such as a grandparent or aunt or uncle.
- Be sure to attend to your own feelings and behavior. Attitude is contagious. If you are anxious, your child may become more anxious as well. Showing your children that you are confident in their abilities to deal with difficult situations will improve their chances of feeling confident in themselves.
This is just a short list of suggestions for you. If you do an internet search of back-to-school anxiety, you will find a myriad of other ways in which to assist your children. If first day jitters persist or your child suddenly becomes more reluctant to attend school, consult your child’s physician or a therapist for assistance as this may signal a greater problem.
Enjoy the new school year!
Dr. Susan O’Grady, Psy.D.
Licensed Professional Counselor
Athans & Associates
32 Main Street, Park Ridge, IL 60068