By Dr. Michelle Borba
You’ve bought the school supplies, sharpened the pencils and packed the lunches, but have you prepared your children for dealing with back-to-school jitters? Many kids experience a surge in anxiety as they meet their new teachers, see their new classroom and settle in a new routine.
Though parents can’t be there to solve every problem and ease every worry there are things to help your child feel more secure and make those goodbye go smoother and less stressful. Here are several solutions from the book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries.
- Peruse the new surroundings
Visit to the school so he can view his new surroundings and find those key places like his classroom, playground, school office, cafeteria, water fountain, lockers, and restroom. Keep in mind that a large campus can be intimidating-especially if your child has multiple classes in different locations. If possible obtain a map of the school (go online) and print out his class schedule. Then help him walk that campus until he feels secure. Just don’t over hype the tour (“What a gorgeous campus! You’re going to be soooooo happy here!”) You don’t want to build up expectations too much so as to disappoint him if things fall short of your build-up.
- Check out those school rules and handbook together
The more your child is aware of the school rules and rituals the more comfortable he’ll be when he arrives. See if the school has a website or stop by the school or district office and ask for school handbook. Then review it with your child. Find out the dress code, bell schedule, names of the principal and teachers, mascot, motto, and even mission statement. Many schools even have websites that give online tours.
- Make one acquaintance
Knowing just one classmate can minimize first day jitters so if possible help your kid meet at least one peer. These two don’t have to become soul mates –just acquaintances! Do a little sleuthing at playgrounds and parks near the school to see if you can find a child who will be the same classroom, grade, or school. Ask parents, coaches, or check in at the local Boys and Girls Clubs. If your child takes a bus ask neighbors for the name and address of a kid on the same route. If you can find a car pool with even one kid it will help your child feel more secure to go with someone instead of alone. Make sure your child knows the name of at least one adult to go to (the nurse, secretary, principal, teacher) for help or assurance.
- Rehearse social scenarios
Set up pretend scenarios and role-play specific social problems, like how to meet someone, start up a conversation, ask if you can play in a game, or ask for help from a teacher. Kids learn social skills best if you show and not tell them what to do so practice one new skill at a time until your child feels comfortable. Anticipate concerns (“What if I can’t find the bus?” “How do I tell the teacher I have to go to the bathroom?” “How do I ask if I can play with them?”), then develop answers that appease your child.
- Point him to the “first thing”
Not knowing what to do or where to go upon arriving at a new scene increases anxiety. So offer “first thing” suggestions. For a young child it may be pointing her towards an activity she enjoys—like a puzzle or blocks. An older kid can go to the basketball courts that he enjoys or meet up with that acquaintance he meet at the park.
- Be cool, consistent …and then leave
A kid’s anxiety increases if you make too big of a deal about leaving or draw it out. So stay calm and show confidence in your child. A matter-of-fact goodbye “See you soon” is better than long-drawn out ones. Wearing an inexpensive watch marked with the exact time with a watercolor pen you’ll return can help. The key is to establish a consistent pattern of goodbyes that build your child’s confidence so she realizes she can make it through the time apart.
All the best for a great school year!
Dr. Michele Borba is an internationally recognized expert and author on children, teens, parenting, bullying and moral development. She is an NBC contributor appearing over 100 times on the TODAY show and is the regular parenting expert on Dr. Drew’s Lifechangers. Her work has been featured on Dr. Phil, Dateline, The View, The Doctors, Fox News, The Early Show and CNN and well as in Newsweek,People, Good Housekeeping, Chicago Tribune, U.S. News & World Report, Washington Post, The New York Times and The Globe and Mail. She was an MSNBC contributor to two televised “Education Nation” specials. Dr. Borba is the awardwinning author of 22 parenting and educational books translated into 14 languages. Titles include: Don’t Give Me That Attitude!, Parents Do Make A Difference, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries, and Nobody Likes Me, Everybody Hates Me!, No More Misbehavin’, Building Moral Intelligence (cited by Publishers’ Weekly as “Among the most noteworthy of 2001”), and Esteem Builders used by 1.5 million students worldwide. She writes as the parenting expert for Dr. Oz’s website, as well a daily column for her blog, Dr. Borba’s Reality Check: www.micheleborba.com Twitter: @micheleborba