Although all these ideas or tips are not germane to all children returning to or starting school for the first time, the following have proven to be helpful in assisting children cope with the start of a new school year.
1. For children going to school in a new building or starting school for the first time, familiarization with the building and schedule of routines can be extremely helpful, not only to help alleviate anxiety but also to avoid potentially problematic situations.
2. Visit the school and show your child his classroom, the nurse’s office, bathrooms, lunchroom, bus pick-up and drop-off as well as where you will pick him up should the need arise. Some schools even provide maps of the building for children. If your child’s school doesn’t offer a map, it might be helpful for you to make one for your child.
3. Talk to your child about the events at school, always keeping a positive perspective about the new activities, homework, new friends and school activities.
4. Ask your child about his concerns about starting school. Rehearse possible situations that he thinks might arise (“what would you do or say if…”). Children should also have emergency numbers to immediately reach you. Despite the school having these numbers it is always reassuring for children to carry these with them.
5. Begin changing routines such as bed times and morning wake-up, to more closely approximate the school day, especially if your child sleeps or goes to bed very late. Many experts advocate “accidentally” waking your child in the morning to get them used to the school day morning ritual wake-up time.
6. Shop for the supplies and new school clothes early, even though you don’t have the complete list of supplies from your child’s teacher. Let your child make the choices for lunchbox, backpack and some supplies. Being part of the decision-making process can make shopping as well as the anticipation of school beginning an exciting time for your child give the child a sense of control.
7. Ask an older sibling or child in the neighborhood to help your child negotiate the first few days of a new school, bus, or school building. Having a buddy can take the edge off a new event.
8. Help your child understand the rules of the bus, school building and classroom teacher. Again, rehearsing the “what if’s” can prepare a child for many eventualities – for example, “suppose you got on the wrong bus, what would you do”?
9. Attitude has a lot to do with success. It helps a child to know that you will be there during that first week of school to meet him at the bus or the building after school ends. If that’s not possible, the routine of after-school care should be discussed beforehand.
A new school year or starting school for the first time is usually more stressful and anxiety producing for parents than it is for children. For most children, school and its beginning is a new adventure in learning, making new friends and seeing old ones again. The adventure can be as exciting and enjoyable as those lazy days of summer. My best wishes to all Hudson Valley Parent readers for a safe and productive new school year for their children.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.