Every year kids start school, and every year parents wonder what to do. Whether it’s your child’s first day at preschool or the start of fifth grade, there are always new challenges. Kids, as well as parents, often struggle with saying goodbye at the classroom door and hello to the start of a new year.
A new school year brings conflicting emotions for most children. Whether it is his or her first year of pre-kindergarten or senior year of high school, a child is faced with both anxiety and excitement when approaching this rung on the ladder of life. Not only does the child face these challenges, but parents do as well. Overcoming these feelings isn’t always easy, but it can be accomplished by following some simple guidelines for both the parent and the child.
While there may not be a blanket set of rules to follow, the following are some tips that parents can use to have a more successful school year, regardless of how old a student is:
1. Familiarize Your Child With the Situation
* Talk with your child about school, no matter his or her grade level. This can help curtail some of this anxiety. Discuss such things as what subjects he or she will be taking, and who the teacher will be. In addition, answer any questions that your child may have.
* Share personal experiences with him or her. A child will be much more excited and comfortable if they understand that his or her parents “survived” school too.
* Call the principal or other school staff to arrange a personal visit to the school, if possible. Try to meet one or more of the student’s teachers, who can provide a connection should he or she need one in the first few days. You will both also want to take a look around and see where the child’s classroom(s) will be, and so on. If you are unable to get inside the building, even just a visit to the building’s grounds can be helpful.
2. Establish a Routine
* One of the major reasons children have trouble with and in school is the lack of a set routine, and failing to enforce such a routine causes unnecessary stress for the parents and the child.
* Parents need to create a back-to-school schedule with the child. Start this new schedule at least a couple of weeks before school starts. Having a firm agenda to practice beforehand will alleviate problems of adjustment once school starts.
Some things to include in the back-to-school schedule are:
a) A set time of going to bed and getting up
b) A generally consistent time for meals, baths, and other daily actions that the child is expected to perform
3. Make Going Back to School a Fun-Filled Experience
* Go shopping for school supplies and new school clothing together. Having new clothing for the first day of school can increase the child’s self-confidence, and make the first day more exciting.
* To make the shopping experience even more fun, make it an all-day event with a lunch date included.
4. Set Up the Child’s Environment for Homework
* Set up a space in the home that is comfortable, quiet, and has all the supplies the child may need.
* Also, since younger children tend to follow a parent’s lead, “study” along with the child. Find a book to read, a craft to make, or some other activity to do that helps the student feel less isolated. As a child gets older, study habits change, and he or she may elect to study independently of others. Just keep in touch with how he or she is progressing.
5. Teach Your Child Organization Skills
* Another key element to reducing school anxiety is being organized, especially as a student’s work becomes more plentiful and difficult. Encourage the student to keep a calendar or agenda of assignments and projects, and their due dates. Ensure that the child has the supplies and resources that he or she needs to complete any projects.
6. Get Involved
* Volunteer as a classroom helper, a tutor, or a chaperone for school outings. You may also want to volunteer for the parent advisory council. When a child sees his or her parents helping with school activities and providing input, the student feels more secure, more a part of the school – the whole experience becomes a “family thing.”
* In addition, when parents invest time and talent in a child’s school, communication with the child’s teacher and the school staff is strengthened and more open, which simplifies working through difficult times if such situations arise. The more a parent is involved with a child’s school, the more settled a student may be.
Children are resilient, but there are times when new situations might be more than they are prepared to handle. A new school year can be such a challenge, so parents must be aware of the possible signals of school anxiety, especially as the first day of school approaches. Reacting to these signals is paramount to whether the year begins in a positive and controlled way, or in a negative manner. Employing some or all of the above tips is a good way to start a new school year.
“Parents as well need to let go, learn to trust the teachers, and support their children’s independent experience. And they need to recognize that their children may not approach school and learning the way they did,” says Michael Thompson, Ph.D. author of “The Pressured Child.”