Calm Your Children’s Back-to-School Anxiety

Last updated on August 31st, 2015 at 01:25 am

Imagine starting a new job every year — with a new boss, new colleagues and new projects. Sound a bit stressful? That’s how the start of the school year feels to many kids. Most children experience anxiety when they don’t know what to expect, says Dr. Andrea Weiner, a child and family therapist and the author of The Best Investment: Unlocking the Secrets of Social Success for Your Child. “It’s fear of the unknown,” says Weiner. “Parents need to give children an understanding of what they will be in control of.”

Try these tips to ease some anxiety your kids may have:

How will I know where to go?

Whether your child is starting kindergarten or middle school, moving to a new town or just switching schools, he’s bound to be anxious about getting around the building. Where’s the bathroom? Which stairwell leads to the library? How long will it take to get from one classroom to another? Remove the guesswork (and the anxiety) by taking a tour a day or two before school starts. (Just call the school office and explain the situation.) Time how long it takes to get from one place to another, and point things out along the way. Getting the lay of the land ahead of time will give your child a sense of control before the first bell rings.

Will my teacher be nice?

Teachers are usually in the building setting up a day or so before school starts, so when you take your tour, ask if you can to stop by the classroom and introduce your child to the teacher. This is especially important to young kids who have no basis for comparison. If you know of older children who’ve had this teacher, you might want to ask them about their experience and then pass on the information to your child. (Don’t have the kids talk directly to each other unless you know the older child has good things to say!)

What will I be doing every day?

Kids love routines and get a great deal of comfort from knowing what their regular schedule will be. For kindergartners and first-graders, explain that the teacher will go over everything on the first day of class (and probably for the next few days after that). The teacher will describe the rules of the classroom, what he expects from the students and what they will be doing during the day. For kids starting middle school, explain that they’ll probably get a printed schedule showing the days, times and locations of all their classes.

Will I have friends?

The social aspect of school is a huge cause of anxiety for kids of all ages, whether they are new to the school or old-timers. Returning kids may worry that none of their friends will be in their class, and that they’ll have to form new friendships. New students may not know how to reach out to other kids. Weiner recommends giving kids some conversation starters to take the pressure off. Suggest they ask such questions as “I like your backpack; where’d you get it?” and “Did you go away this summer?” They can also share some of their doubts: “Did you understand that assignment? I didn’t get it at all.”

Will I be able to keep up?

All kids worry about their academic performance, according to Weiner. The important thing to tell them is that effort counts much more than grades do. Parents should stress the importance of trying and learning, as opposed to succeeding. Say something like, “Some subjects may be harder for you than others, and that’s OK.” And remind your child that teachers really are there to help.

“Most kids think they’re the only ones who are afraid,” says Weiner. “Remind them that everyone is in the same situation and feeling the same way. It helps kids deal with the anxiety a little better when they know everyone is in the same boat.”



About the Author

Gail Belsky is an editorial consultant and writer, and an adjunct professor of journalism. A 12-year veteran of women’s publications, she was a senior editor at Parents magazine and an executive editor at both Working Mother magazine and Time Inc.’s custom publishing division, where she created and edited two women’s service magazines for Target stores. Belsky worked on the launch of Time Inc.’s All You magazine and was an editorial consultant at Meredith Corp., where she created four custom publications for American Baby magazine. Most recently, she wrote a book for women, entitled The List: 100 Ways to Shake Up Your Life (Seal Press 2008).

Comments

One Response to “Calm Your Children’s Back-to-School Anxiety”

  1. My son just started first grade and he was TERRIFIED. Up in the middle of the night with questions. Now that he got through his first day it’s a lot better. He’s super excited about the school year!

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