This Thursday marks the official end of summer for all school-age kids in Washington County. Going back to school marks a huge milestone in every child’s life that hopefully they are excited about instead of dread. While many parents look forward to having a more structured family time, this can also be a very stressful time for kids and parents alike if you are not prepared. Changing classrooms, new teachers, and sometimes even a move to a different school can cause anxiety and even fear in some children. It’s normal for children and parents alike to have the first day jitters; however, with a little preparation on your part, you can make your child’s transition back to school a little smoother and a day they will enjoy.
Planning ahead for the first day going back to school will go a long way in easing any fears a child—or you—may have. It’s not uncommon for a child and a parent to have separation anxiety, especially if this is your first little one you are sending off to school. Try not to show or voice your concerns to your child since this might only make them more anxious or fearful. Instead, if you are calm, optimistic, reassuring and supportive, children are more likely to feel more confident and optimistic themselves.
One of the best ways to qualm your child’s fear is to meet their new teacher. Luckily, my son’s elementary school has recognized that need and has a policy where teachers actually go to meet each child in their class at the student’s home. They introduce themselves, give a few handouts, and tell the child how excited they are to have them in their classroom. The meeting only lasts around five minutes, but that informal introduction goes a long way in helping a child feel more comfortable and excited about their teacher.
In some school districts, the school actually holds their back to school night a week before school starts. This gives the kids an opportunity to tour the school, visit their new classroom, drop off supplies, find their desk, meet their teacher and hopefully either connect with a former friend or two or even make new ones. Having a familiar face in the classroom can often make all the difference.
This type of back to school night also gives the parents an opportunity to meet with the teacher before school starts and discuss any issues or questions they may have. I personally think that this is the best way to ease nervousness, especially if the school holds an ice cream social or has treats to make the atmosphere a fun one.
Picking out new school supplies and clothes is a great way to get kids excited for their new school adventure. Stores often have list of supplies required for younger grades so that you can find and purchase them with ease. If finances allow beyond the basic, think about allowing a splurge on that cool backpack or shirt. Being able to pick out their own supplies and a new outfit or two can help a child to feel more confident and excited for that first day. Sometimes it’s the little things that can make a world of difference in how a child feels about their first day back to school.
Teachers and experts alike agree that it’s not a good idea to do last-minute drilling of facts and figures for your child. They say that for some kids, last-minute drills can actually increase anxiety since it reminds them of what they have forgotten instead of looking forward to what they can remember and will learn. They will have plenty of time for facts when school starts.
Lastly, ease into the transition and routine of school. Talk to your child about what to expect. If possible, practice a few days before. Set the alarm clock, and go through your morning ritual with your child. Consider walking to the bus stop or school so they can see how much time they will need to get there on time. This is also a good time to select a spot for backpacks, lunchboxes and where homework will be done. Knowing where things should go and where to put important papers will also help a child feel better about all the new changes.
The night before, consider talking to your child again about how exciting the next day will be for them. Help them if needed to set out their clothes and backpack so they are not scrambling looking for misplaced shoes. Make sure they get plenty of sleep so they can be alert and geared up to learn. In the morning, make sure to plan plenty of time to get ready and to eat a nutritious breakfast. Unexpected things often happen so it’s best to have more time than less since being late for the first day will only compound a child’s fear.
After school, talk to your child about how things went and share your enthusiasm for what they will be learning that year. If you haven’t already, you may also want to go over with your child what to do or where to go if you are either not there to pick them up or not at home when they arrive. If a neighbor will be meeting them, make sure your child knows them well and feels comfortable with them.
A little preparation before the big day can go a long way in easing your child back to school. It doesn’t have to be a time of anxiety for kids or parents. With your support, preparation and encouragement, kids can have a smoother transition and be excited for this new school year and the things they will learn.