It’s not easy going back to school for some kids after spending a fun summer not having to worry about homework and other school issues. For others, it may be the first time they are setting foot in a classroom as they enter kindergarten.
Anxiety on the first day of school isn’t a rarity and can often be prevented, according to child psychiatrist Dr. Bruce Waslick, chief, Child Psychiatry at Baystate Medical Center.
“First and foremost, parents need to manage their own anxiety over the separation, or any worry about their child’s ability to handle it,” he said.
Know what to expect
Waslick noted that parents should make sure children can handle what will be expected in school, such as managing their own clothes when they use the bathroom.
For example, children might feel more confident if they have pants with an elastic waist rather than a zipper, and shoes with Velcro rather than laces. In addition, make sure your child knows how to seek help from adults. Parents can help their children practice this with other adults such as neighbors, librarians, and store clerks, and can also role-play with their children.
Address concerns and feelings
Waslick noted parents should exude confidence in their child’s ability to handle school and in the adults who will be taking care of him or her in the classroom.
“Talk with your child to learn if he or she has any concerns about going to school. Address those concerns and provide reassurance by letting them know how proud you are. Let them know that they are not alone in their feelings, that many other children are experiencing the same concerns as they go to school for the first time,” he said.
Get familiar with the territory
Children can benefit from meeting their teacher and seeing their school beforehand, especially the classroom, bathroom and lunchroom.
“Information is a good thing for kids, and you should prepare your child by providing as much information about the school as possible. You can help new school-goers feel less anxious by allowing them to bring something special from home, like a small stuffed animal or even a picture of their parents, if that’s okay with school officials,” Waslick said.
Make it a quick good-bye
When it comes time to drop your child off at school, Waslick said don’t prolong the goodbye.
“Tell your child when you will return and try not to be a minute late,” he said.
When first starting school, some children may return to problems they had at one time, but have since overcome, such as sleeping, eating, temper tantrums, thumb sucking, and others.
“Your child may simply need a little extra nurturing to support them at a time when they are stretching the boundaries of their independence. However, if the problem persists or worsens, consider discussing the problem with your child’s pediatrician, who may suggest a mental health professional if needed,” said Dr. Waslick.