by Lynn Guerra, LPC
Welcome back to a new school year! Whether you have a child starting school for the first time, or children returning for yet another year, the start of the school year can be exciting and stressful. There are some things you can do to help calm everyone’s nerves.
- First, take the time to introduce yourself to the teachers and principal, and establish a relationship with them. They are your partners in your child’s education.
- Next, talk with your child(ren) about how they are feeling: “You may be feeling excited, a little scared, or nervous about school, and that’s okay. It’s normal to feel that way when starting a new thing, even if it’s a place you’ve been before.” What is important is validating your child’s feelings, letting them know you understand and that it’s okay. Remind them of what is going to happen: “Today I will pick you up from school, then we will go home and..” or “I’m going to take you to school this morning. When school is over, the teacher will take you to after school care, and Daddy will pick you up at 5:00 and bring you home.”
- Also, reminding them of where their family members will be can be reassuring. “Your sister will be down the hall, Daddy will be at work and I will be at home while you are at school. If you become a little worried, remember that is where we will be.”
You can also talk to your child about what he or she hopes to learn about today or this week, and to tell you about their class. “What are some things you like about your new classroom? Are there (other) new children in the class? Do you think they were nervous about starting school too? What do you think you might say to them if they were feeling scared?”
Finally, it’s okay to check in with the child’s teacher(s) periodically. Find out the appropriate methods of contact for the teacher/school, and use them. Check in after the first day or two, then a week; keep in contact as needed after that. Encourage your child to talk to the teacher if they are having a tough time. For older children, if they get some free time, have them journal their thoughts and feelings. This can help them organize their thoughts, and may help things seem less scary. They can decide later if they need to discuss it further – putting thoughts into words on paper may be enough.
Check in with your child after a few days, a week, a month; let them know how far they’ve come already. “Remember how scared you felt the first day? Today you walked right up to the school with a smile and said hello to the teachers, then said goodbye to me. You are doing a great job being brave.” This validation – acknowledging and confirming their feelings – is very important to their mental and emotional growth and stability, and will help them become more confident and secure as the days go on.