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Categories > Children’s Health > Back to school

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Back to school: The ABCs of calming first-day jitters

» A reassuring approach

» A smooth road ahead

When to get help

Some children aren’t always comfortable talking about why they don’t want to go to school or what’s bothering them. They may express themselves by misbehaving, withdrawing or becoming sick so they don’t have to attend school. About 5 percent of children become phobic and refuse to go to school at all. When this happens, professional counseling may be needed to help children identify and overcome their fears.

As summer begins to wind down and your kids are getting ready to go back to school, your to-do list will likely be filled with items such as buying new school clothes, stocking backpacks with supplies and arranging car pools.

At the same time, you should also be preparing your children to cope with the changes that will take place in their lives—whether they’re starting a new school or returning from summer vacation.

A reassuring approach

Some children become anxious when faced with the prospect of going back to school. Kids may worry about making friends. Sometimes they’re scared of the class bully or nervous about having a “mean” teacher. Or they may be worried about failing certain subjects. Others are self-conscious about their weight or how they look and are concerned they’ll be teased by other kids. And some children may feel the stress of a recent divorce or death in the family and be uneasy about leaving home.

Encourage your children to discuss what they like and dislike about school or why they don’t want to leave home. If you find out what’s bothering them, you can help ease anxiety and even get them excited about the prospect of going back to school.

Try these tips to help make the transition go smoothly:

  • A few weeks before school starts, set a normal routine; eat dinner at the same time every night and have your children go to bed and wake up earlier.
  • Let your kids take an active role in choosing their school clothes and supplies so they have a say in how well outfitted they are for the semester.
  • If your children are uncomfortable about meeting new friends or teachers, try role playing to help them feel prepared for these social encounters.
  • Visit the school with your children to meet new teachers. Peek at your kids’ classrooms. Point out the cafeteria, gym, library, art room, nurse’s office and so on if they’re unfamiliar with the school’s layout.
  • If your children will be attending a new school this year, ask school administrators whether they have orientation events such as ice cream socials or storytelling. Older kids can meet new school friends through summer recreation programs.
  • Tell your children how much you value education and that you plan to help them with their homework. Let them know you will volunteer at school and are looking forward to attending their school games and activities.

A smooth road ahead

Expect the first week to be a bit bumpy as children meet new teachers and learn new school routines and rules. Remind your children that everyone has first-day jitters—but chances are they’ll be gone by snack time.


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