Starting School Jitters

Starting School Jitters

Picture of Meri Wallace
Meri Wallace

Meri Wallace, LCSW, a parenting expert and child and family therapist for over thirty years, grew up in Coney Island, Brooklyn. Meri completed her Masters degree in Social Work at NYU, specializing in child development. Meri writes a blog for “Psychology Today”, and is the author of “Birth Order Blues” (Henry Holt and Co.) and “Keys to Parenting Your Four Year Old” (Barron's Educational Series.) She has been a columnist for Sesame Street Parents, New York Family Magazine,and Brooklyn Parent and has been a consultant to Children’s Television Workshop. She is frequently interviewed by national publications including Newsweek, Cosmopolitan, and Parents Magazine.

Children tend to face the new year with many worries

Uh oh! The school year is starting up again. With camp and family vacations becoming fond memories, the more easy going routine of lounging around in pajamas and staying up late at night is soon to be replaced by the daily chaos of the school year.

On one hand, parents look forward to the more structured schedule and not having to deal with constant parent/child tensions and finding entertaining activities and child care each day. But they dread the daily rush to get kids where they need to be.

Children look forward to seeing their friends again, and many miss the actual learning experience itself. However, children tend to face the new year with many worries. What will the new teacher be like? Will they make friends in their class? How will they handle the more advanced work? It is wise to begin to prepare your kids for starting school in advance.

Here are some helpful steps to take:

Change your children’s daily bed time: Explain to your kids that they need to go to bed earlier so that when school begins, they will be able to get up feeling rested and have the energy to do their work. Each morning wake them a little earlier too, to help them gradually get used to the change. Re-institute bed time routines that worked well during the year, such as reading to your child or having her read on her own for twenty minutes. This will also ease the transition.

Talk about the changes in the upcoming year: Young children need to know what to expect. If they are starting kindergarten, for instance, talk about the difference in the routine from preschool. Explain that there will no longer be as much free play with toys. Read children’s books with them about kindergarten or play out the daily routine with dolls or action figures. This preparation will make them more comfortable when class begins.

Arrange play dates with kids from his new class: If he has one friend when he arrives at school the first day, he will feel more comfortable. Otherwise try to do this shortly after school begins.

Talk about how your child feels about the new year: Is there anything that makes her happy about going back to school? Is there anything that makes her worry or feel sad? She may have separation feelings regarding her old school, her teacher or a classmate who has moved away. Put a positive spin to the new subjects she will be learning.

Talk about seasonal changes: Explain that it is normal to feel a little sad when the summer ends because it was so much fun going to the beach and having early evening outings with the family. Talk about all the special occasions ahead, such as Halloween and Thanksgiving, so he will look forward to the fall with excitement.

Reassure her: Show her pictures or videos of herself at school or in other activities, that demonstrate her ability to succeed. Reiterate that you will be there to help her if there is any problem. If there were challenges in the prior year, talk about strategies to make the new year go better. Reassure her that she has grown and things naturally change over time.

Avoid warning him to doing better: A warning makes a child feel anxious and undermines his confidence, making it harder to make a change.

Buy her something special: A new backpack or a pair of jeans, will excite her about the first day.

It is normal for kids to get jittery each year before they start school. They might even have trouble falling asleep the night before. With your understanding and support he will approach the new year with confidence and settle into the new routine soon after the school year begins.