Remember the last time you were about to start something new? A new job. A move to a new city. You had all kinds of questions: would you like it? Would it be hard? Would it take forever to learn the ropes? Would you make friends? Would people like you?
You probably had butterflies in your stomach, maybe some sleepless nights and a loss of appetite, maybe you were a little on edge. It was nerve-racking, right?
Starting a new school year can be just as traumatic for some young kids. Even some high schoolers, teens that you might THINK have it all under control, deal with significant and very real stress during the weeks leading up to the new school year.
The fact of the matter is that transitions are hard. For a lot of kids, especially young children and those that might already be dealing with anxiety issues, that first day of school is fraught. Nervousness, anxiety, feelings of powerlessness, being overwhelmed, fear of the unknown, fear of being away from their parents and their homes…all very common, but very real, symptoms that should not be ignored or glossed over.
There are some strategies you can use to help ease the transition back to school:
- Connect with your child’s teacher: If your school offers an orientation program or back-to-school night, take your child and introduce him to the teacher. Try to get a photo of the new teacher from a school newsletter or website, post it on the refrigerator, and "talk to the teacher" from time to time. A familiar face will go a long way!
- Learn the lay of the land: If you are switching to a new school, or starting at a new school, call the school office a few weeks before school starts and ask to take a tour with your child. Seeing the classrooms, the library, and the playground makes the looming unknown less scary.
- Get on a back-to-school schedule: After a long summer of going to bed a little later and sleeping in, it’s important to institute a back-to-school nighttime routine a good two weeks before school begins. Not only does this help with recalibrating your child’s internal clock, but rest and a healthy diet go a long way in easing feelings of being overwhelmed and generally cranky.
- Network: Sometimes kids will go a whole summer without seeing their regular schoolmates. Reconnecting with those friends leading up to the first day transition back to school will help them feel excited to return.
The goal is to diminish the fear of the unknown and to create feelings of excitement and anticipation. Empowering your child – showing her that she is capable and strong, that she is safe and well cared for – and empathizing with her feelings, is crucial.
If you’d like to talk more about ways to deal with back-to-school anxiety, call one of our counselors today and get a free consultation.