The first day of school brings with it a variety of emotions; anticipation mixed with a lot of apprehension. The mixture of conflicting emotions is not limited to the children entering school for the first time in kindergarten, but also those entering middle school, high school, those changing schools and also those returning after a summer that is devoid of the rigor or social pressure of school. Whatever the scenario, there are some simple actions that can calm the first day jitters and decrease the stress involved with returning to school.

Involving children in the shopping of back-to-school supplies such as backpacks, lunch boxes, books, folders and school clothes helps create a sense of excitements and diminishes the negative connotations associated with school. If the student has what they need and is confident with how they will look they will also feel calm and ready for the first day.

Accompany your child to the school’s open house, registration, or meet the teacher, and allow the child to become familiar with the “lay of the land.” Knowing the schedule, walking the campus, determining where the classes will be, the closest bathroom, and the location of the cafeteria provides a sense of familiarity on the first day. If possible, allow the younger children to meet their teacher in order to provide them with a comfortable and familiar face when they begin school. Parents should try to be active in their child’s school.  This will allow you to meet other parents, become more familiar with your child’s school and teachers, and also provide another avenue for the children to make more friends.

In order to provide comfort with the new scholarly challenges that the children will experience when they begin school, quickly reviewing some of the old school work, notes or worksheets will put the children in a different mindset and provide an enormous boost of confidence.

The biggest challenge is emotional in nature. The younger kids worry about not being liked, not having anyone to sit with during lunch, or having no friends to play with during recess.  The older children are concerned about “fitting in”, dealing with changing six classes a day, and how to fit in the socialization that occurs while going from class to class. They are concerned about the bullies, the “mean kids”, the drug culture, and how to deal with the integration of kids from different schools who may be from many different types of families, incomes, and values. Regardless of age, the key to dealing with the emotional apprehension is communication.  Though the concerns, questions and remedies are different, the basic principles are the same for all ages.  It is important to remind them that most of the children are feeling exactly the way they are and will love to receive a friendly smile or “hello” from your child. For the younger child, a detailed explanation about where and how they will sit with other children, eat lunch, and have activities will calm nerves. Calm their fears about not being picked up on time and on their interactions with the teacher and other children.  If necessary, rehearsing with stuffed animals or toys before school begins using scripts such as, “Hi, my name is Andy, what’s yours?” or joining a game by saying, “That looks like fun and I know how to play. May I also have a turn?” can ease the initial hesitation.  For the older child, it would help if some of the children that they know who will be on the new campus with them come over during the summer to strengthen friendships, providing them with friends during school. They can also initiate contact using social media prior to school starting in order to get back in touch with acquaintances they have been apart from all summer. This is a good time to remind them that they should think before they post anything on social media, and if it is something that they would not want a parent to see then it is their conscience telling them to not do it.

The most important ingredient in allaying the fears of returning to school or entering somewhere new is listening to your child, discussing their fears and concerns, and answering their questions. Once school begins discuss with them what happened each day; who they ate with, what they ate, who they walked to class with, and their interactions with their peers and teachers.  An ideal time for this is at the dinner table each night. Having each person around the table, including the parents, say one good thing, one bad thing, and one funny thing that happened to them that day will prompt conversation and give you insight into your child’s day.

First day of school jitters are very normal. Discussing your child’s concerns with them and making sure they are prepared and on time for their first day will go a long way towards calming their fears and making their — and your — transition smooth and easy.

— Ghazala Khan, M.D., FAAP

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