By Nancy Macnamara
Getting back to the routine and rigor of school after a summer break that’s been filled with relaxation and fun-in-the-sun activities can be quite an adjustment, even for those kids who love school. Change can be difficult, no matter how exciting and happy we are to be going through it. You can help ease some of the anxiety that comes with this change by taking steps to anticipate what will trigger uneasiness in your child as the first day of school approaches.
First, talk to your child! Ask questions about what he or she is feeling and acknowledge the positives and negatives. Allowing your child to share their thoughts will give them a sense of control and assist in the transition. Ask them specific questions about what they anticipate, such as “Is there anything that worries you about starting school?” Ask them what you can do to help ease any anxiety they might be having, and offer input about how fun and exciting a new school year can be.
If your child is going to a new school with new teachers and students, set up a time to tour the school and meet with the teacher before the first day if possible. Be sure to make notes about things like where to go before school, where your child will line up when the bell rings, where their classroom is, and where the playground and bathrooms are. If your child doesn’t know any of the other students, take advantage of socials that the school may have so that you can meet other families together and start fostering some friendships. If there aren’t any opportunities to meet other students ahead of time, be sure to set up playdates and encourage social connections as soon as possible.
Start preparing for the schedule changes well ahead of time so that when school begins, everyone will know what to expect. This includes an early bedtime, and daily routine for getting ready for the day. It may be helpful to do a “dry run” a few days before the first day of school so that you can see how much time it will take to pack lunches, eat breakfast, get dressed, and travel to school. Develop a routine and stick with it. Children thrive when they know what to expect, as it allows them to feel competent. Make sure your child knows the routine for after school care as well, and have a backup plan for emergencies (e.g. if you are unable to pick your child up, or are running late).
Once school begins, ask specific questions about your child’s day, such as “Who did you play with at recess today?” or “Did anything funny happen in class today?” Connect with your child by also reading together every day to create positive conversations both about school and learning. Your child will benefit from your enthusiasm, especially if feelings of anxiety loom.
Nancy Macnamara serves as the director of education and principal for the San Diego Center for Children, and has over 45 years of experience in special education, school administration and accreditation.