Starting a new school year can be like starting a
new job or moving departments in the same company. New boss, new
expectations, different work load. You may know some of your
co-workers, but you might end up with the annoying one sitting at
the desk next to you.
So it's understandable that most kids feel the jitters
about starting a new school year. But sometimes the jitters turn
into the shakes and before you know it, your child is worked into a
Don't let that happen. We've got some tips for getting
ready for school mentally.
1. Start early.
Allow your kids a little time to switch gears. Dr. Jeff Brown, a
Harvard psychologist and author of The Winners Brain, recommends
re-establishing a routine about two weeks ahead of time.
"We have a tendency in the summer to stay up later and
snack more frequently, rather than taking in full meals," he
Ramp up the bedtime and wake the kids up in the morning.
Get meals back in check and make sure they're getting plenty of
healthy food, including proteins, fruits, vegetables and whole
"Getting back to a schedule makes it easier to monitor
what your child is experiencing. You might not notice anything
going on, but once you're back in a routine and something is off,
you notice," Brown says.
2. Walk the walk.
Get into the new routine. Practice walking to school or the bus
stop. Point out interesting things along the way so that it's not
so unfamiliar. Go play at the playground. Take advantage of any
back-to-school activities such as an orientation.
Once you know who is in their class, have some play dates
or meet at a park so your child knows some familiar, friendly
faces. Some schools are willing to help parents organize summer
play dates, particularly in kindergarten, so kids can get to know
classmates before the first day.
Nina McCabe, principal of award-winning Brook Forest
Elementary School in suburban Oak Brook, suggests familiarizing
students with the school routine.
"Talk about what the first day of school will be like.
Share appropriate books that touch on the subject-the more a child
knows about what he or she should expect, the less anxiety about a
new situation," she says.
3. Listen carefully. Sometimes it's more than
just a mild case of nerves. If your child is having trouble
sleeping or is experiencing panic attacks, crying jags or stomach
aches, something deeper may be bothering them. Find a quiet moment
and really listen to what they're saying.
"We think like adults, but sometimes we need to think like
a child," says Dr. John Mayer, a child and family psychologist in
Chicago. "Try to look at the jitters and nerves through their eyes.
Is it the school work or is it recess?"
Before offering reassurance, make sure you understand the
problem. We may assume that they're worried about math when really
they're scared about where to sit at lunch. Oftentimes kids fixate
on a small aspect of school we might overlook.
Brown agrees. "Find out if there is some unresolved issue
from last year."
McCabe also recommends parents spend extra time with their
children during the first week of school, especially after
4. Play the part
yourself. Above all, Mayer urges parents to appear
confident even if that's not how we're feeling.
"Parents need to play the role of staying calm, being
organized and not getting hysterical at the last minute about the
start of school," he says. "Parental attitude is absolutely vital
and huge in terms of calming a kid's jitters. I would say that
nothing is better than the parent's attitude and
So before you shrill a hundred times in a false, bravado
tone "Are you excited about school!?!" play it cool instead. Trying
to muster fake enthusiasm often illuminates your own fears and
insecurities. As parents we bring our own baggage to our children's
situations, remembering our troubles making friends, keeping up
with class work or handling lunchtime seating
"Sometimes so much of parenting is just an act," says
Mayer. "We just have to muster the best stakes and do things that
may go a little against our personality or our grain."
McCabe couldn't agree more. "Remember, the nerves will
almost always dissipate once a child acclimates to the new school
year. Love, reassurance, modeling a positive attitude and believing
that 'this too shall pass' works well for all involved."
5. A bouquet of sharpened
pencils. Finally, don't discount the tried and true
routine: back-to-school shopping. It doesn't have to be
extravagant, but there is something anticipatory about having a
fun, new backpack packed with freshly sharpened pencils and smooth
Buy them a new outfit and then don't let them wear it
before school starts so it doesn't lose its appeal and
"We know it's not all about appearance," says Brown. "But
for some kids, sometimes it is."
Laura Amann is a freelance writer and the mother of four living in Elmhurst.
See more of Laura's stories here.
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