As the cliché goes “we are all creatures of habit.” Both adults and children seem to gravitate toward routine as these established patterns help to alleviate our anxiety and they provide us with a sense of control and predictability over our lives.
The transition from the fun-filled, unstructured summer days to the often rigorously structured schedule of the school year is potentially challenging for a child, even if the change is a highly anticipated one. Whether your child is entering a new grade, new school or possibly starting kindergarten for the first time, he may be feeling anxious even if he is looking forward to the new experience.
Some children experience more than what might be called “anticipatory anxiety.” Children who exhibit beyond the normal jitters or anxieties about school may develop significant physical symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches or complain of vague aches and pains.
Some children even experience real panic at the idea of school. If your child is experiencing more than the usual cluster of symptoms that accompanies anxiety for any new or changing situation you might want to seek professional help or at least discuss your concerns with the school psychologist. This person may be able to meet with your child and offer some guidance with regard to seeking outside resources.
Barring any unusual problems that may need the help of a professional, there are many things you can do to help ease the transition jitters your child may have. Most anticipatory anxiety is not based on the reality of the upcoming event but rather on the perception (the “what ifs”) of the event formed in the child’s mind.
The key to changing a child’s perception of an upcoming event, or helping a child adjust to a new routine is to begin the process early. Anxiety is always higher when there are a significant number of unknowns. Make the unknowns known!
The more time a child has to get used to the idea of change, and the more potential exposure he or she has to the event, the easier the process of change will be.
Paul Schwartz, Ph.D., is Professor of Psychology and Education at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh. He is available for group speaking engagements. He can be reached at email@example.com.