10 Strategies for Calming First Day Jitters for Kids and Their Nervous Parents
One look at my daughter and granddaughter and it’s immediately obvious who is the more nervous about next month’s first day of kindergarten. I’ve seen that OMG look in my daughter’s eyes before—every August during her school years. Her histrionic school induced anxiety, the end result of a learning disability and years of first trying to understand and then trying to hide it, has resurfaced.
Now on the eve of her only child starting school, I’ve received the expected text, “I’m freaking out here,” and I’m ready to jump into action with strategies to help calm them both.
5 Strategies to Calm the Kid
- TALK. As with any anxiety driven reactions, it is best to talk to your child about their fears. Listen to their concerns without minimizing them. Ask open-ended questions to provide the space for your child to figure out their own feelings.
- SHARE. Children love to hear about the ‘old days’. If you have scrapbooks from your school years, you may want to spend time flipping through them together. Focus on the great things about starting school, and your own positive experiences.
- SHOP. Include your child in the back-to-school shopping trip. Your child may feel powerless as this thing called school is being imposed on them. By allowing them to choose their own backpack, lunch bag, indoor shoes, and new outfits you are returning some control and power back to them.
- RETURN. At least a week or two before the first day, return your child’s summer schedule back to an earlier bedtime with less television and video game play. Re-establish a good breakfast routine including the foods you will expect your child to eat each morning before school.
- VISIT. Most schools provide an opportunity for kids and parents to meet the teacher in advance of the first day. In addition, children will benefit from taking a trial run to the school, identifying where they will be dropped off and picked up, and where they will play outdoors.
5 Strategies to Calm the Parent
- BE PREPARED. It is natural that you will experience mixed emotions as you prepare to send your child off to school. Acknowledging your own feelings will avoid unexpected anxieties and surprise reactions. Make sure you have contact information and know how your child’s teacher prefers to be contacted.
- BE INFORMED. Ask questions in advance of the first day and know what your child’s day will look like.
- BE ORGANIZED. You will receive lots of paperwork that should be kept and organized so that you can refer to it with questions. Complete paperwork and return it to your child’s teacher in a timely manner.
- BE PROACTIVE. Expect your child may need your extra attention and may be a bit clingy. They are experiencing a wide range of emotions and will feel confused. Plan the first day. You do not want to forget things or be rushed.
- BE BRAVE. Whether school had been a pleasant or distressing experience for you, knowing your child, your baby, will likely spend the next 14-20 years of their life in a classroom is going to cause you some nervousness. When the alarm clock sparks to life on that first day, be brave and do not let your child see your anxiety. Like an animal, young children will sense your apprehension and on top of their own feels, may think they have to now worry about you.
Being nervous of each new stage of your life, and your child’s life is a good sign. It means you are aware, and that you care. But before everyone works up into a lather, take a deep breath and look at the situation clearly. Your child’s school life will be a great experience for everyone if you embrace it. Happy learning.