By Heidi Smith Luedtke
If your child is starting a new school this year, he may be concerned about finding his classroom, getting along with his teacher or making new friends. Academic pressure increases kids’ anxieties. As a parent, you can help your child confront and conquer new-school jitters. Here are 10 ways to help kids get comfortable.
1. Find friends
“Don’t make a kid go in cold,” says early childhood education specialist Maureen Taylor, Ed.D. “Spend your summer finding and introducing your child to students their age or younger who will attend the same school.” Even one familiar face can go a long way to increase kids’ confidence.
2. Check yourself
“Sometimes kids pick up on parents’ worries about sending the child to school,” says clinical psychologist Lawrence Levy, Psy.D. Monitor your own anxiety and be vigilant of signals you send. Talking with the principal, teacher and other parents can calm your fears and prevent them from amplifying kids’ school-related stress.
3. Visit the school
Attend orientation or create your own self-guided tour. Walk around the buildings and grounds with your child. Give him a campus map if one is available. If students must walk from one class to another between periods, practice the shortest route so your child knows he can get from gym to English class in the time allotted.
4. Talk it up
The stories kids tell themselves about their new-school transition have a major impact on their emotions. Count down the days until school begins with X’s on the calendar or using a paper chain in the new school colors. Create a sense of anticipation and excitement. Use optimistic words and phrases to give her story a positive tone.
5. Meet the staff
Head to campus before school starts to meet the principal, teachers and other personnel – including coaches, the nurse and the office staff – if possible. Many staff members go back to work several weeks before the first day of school.
6. Be a player
Pack a picnic lunch and go to the school playground just for fun. Spend unstructured time in your child’s soon-to-be stomping grounds. Familiarity with the outdoor environment and play equipment makes recess and lunch time less intimidating for school-age kids.
7. Team up
“Make your child a participant in back-to-school preparations, instead of doing things for him,” says Levy. Shop together for supplies, clothing and athletic gear. Let your child express his personal style and favorite hobbies with a special backpack or book covers. Kids gain a sense of control and independence when they assist with back-to-school prep.
8. Stack the deck
Work with your child to list appropriate get-to-know-you questions and personal facts she can use during early (and sometimes awkward) peer interactions. Favorite movies, hobbies, sports and magic tricks are interesting things to share with new friends. Knowing what to say eases fears about the social scene.
9. Anticipate challenges
The level of difficulty, class schedule or homework load may be different at your child’s new school. Tune in to kids’ concerns. Help your child create a plan to keep track of assignments and complete work on time. Look for tutors in subjects that are most challenging for your child. An academic plan of attack can relieve the performance pressure your child may feel.
10. Take a token
Kids feel more secure when they have a comfort object tucked away in their book bag or locker. Let your child select a small token to take with him to school – it can be his secret worry-busting weapon. A tiny toy, a favorite piece of clothing, or a silly photo of the family dog can bring a smile to a nervous new student.
New school transitions are harder for some students than others – you know your child’s temperament best. “Some kids breeze into a new classroom as if they did it every day,” says Taylor. “Others are anxious and withdrawn whether they are 5 years old or 11.” Offer extra reassurance and be patient while your student adjusts. Before long, she’ll be singing the school fight song and looking forward to the upcoming carnival.
Heidi Smith Luedtke is a personality psychologist, former educator and mom of two. She is the author of Detachment Parenting.