This is the time of summer when many families are experiencing the last of their summer adventures, as for many students, school begins within the next few weeks. My family is enjoying southern California before my son, Isaiah, starts his second year of college and my niece, Armani, starts 6th grade. So far we have gone to the beach to check out sea lions, hung out at the pool, ate lots of ice cream, and visited museums. Whenever the conversation drifts to going back to school the tension on my son's and niece’s faces is unmistakable.
For parents this time of year can feel hurried and stressful because of the many details to attend to—school supplies, school clothes, transportation, before and after school care, school physicals, fees, daily schedule changes, and the list goes on and on.
Likewise, for many kids the prospect of going back to school can feel hurried and stressful. Some kids have fears related to riding the school bus. Will the kids on the bus be mean? What if I miss the bus? Kids also worry about their teachers and the schoolwork. What if the teachers are mean? What if the work is too hard? The social aspect of school is of particular concern to many kids. Will I be able to make new friends? Will any of my friends be in my class? Will I fit in? Who will I sit with at lunch?
These concerns can make the first day of school anything but exciting. Despite the brand new backpack full of school supplies, the new outfit, and plans for the first day of school pics, some kids just do not want to go.
Strategies for alleviating fears
I have found two strategies to be valuable in helping my son feel more confident on the first day of school.
Have a conversation. A couple of weeks prior to the first day is the time to discuss concerns with your child. For some kids having a conversation during which parents listen and acknowledge the validity of the concerns is a tremendous help and may result in the child feeling more at ease.
Make a plan. While some kids want to be heard, but do not necessarily want parents to try to fix the problem, other kids may welcome a fix. Thus, the second strategy to help children with back-to-school fears is to make a plan. For example, if your child has fears about being able to manage the workload, then plan effective ways to study, take notes, do homework, prepare for assessments, and get help. A plan can help your child feel more confident as he or she gets on the bus, walks into the building, sits in class, or sits in the cafeteria.
When Isaiah was in middle and high school, the days and weeks prior to the first day of school were stressful as he would worry about navigating the school buildings and finding his classrooms. Our solution to this was to visit school to help him feel more comfortable. With Isaiah’s class schedule in hand, we walked to each of his classes. He practiced his locker combination. We would do this not one time, but typically 2-3 times. Each time Isaiah felt more comfortable. Sometimes we were able to meet his teachers during these visits. That also helped ease some of Isaiah’s anxiety.
Now is the time
As we wind down our summer activities and have one last hurrah, now is the time to have conversations and make plans so that your child’s first few days of school will be less stressful.
Stacey Montgomery, Founder and Creative Director, Stacey M Design, Inc.
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