A New Start
For many children, school starts next week. If your child is starting a new school, these last days of summer may be stressful as the anticipation of a new environment nears. Getting the year off to a good start can reduce stress for the entire family, build your child’s confidence, and improve academic functioning. Here are some steps you can take to support your child and help ease the transition.
Before school starts…
- Keep a positive focus. Stay confident and enthusiastic about your child’s new school. Regardless of their ages, kids are experts at reading your emotions about their teacher, classmates, etc. YOUR attitude sets the stage.
- Visit the school with your child. Some schools open their classrooms before school starts and have a “meet the teacher” time. If this is offered, by all means, GO. If not, find other ways to introduce your child to her new school. Go play on the playground and stroll through the hallways. Then, closer to the first day, do a full run-through – enter through the door she will use, find her classroom, identify the closest water fountain and restrooms, find the lunchroom, etc. Becoming familiar with the physical layout of the school goes a long way toward reducing first day jitters.
- Re-establish meal and bedtime routines. If you haven’t already done so, start putting your children to bed earlier and getting them up earlier as well. Being well-rested will help your kids feel better physically and emotionally. Get back on schedule with regular mealtimes, too. Be sure to serve a healthy breakfast every morning. Some alternatives to cold cereal are yogurt and granola, whole wheat Eggo waffles with peanut butter, and cottage cheese with fresh fruit.
- Be a good listener. Talk to your child about her new school and the things you think she will enjoy, but be sure to listen to her concerns. It’s tempting to want to tell her “It’ll be fine. You’ll love school,” but doing so will end the conversation and make her hesitant to open up and share her feelings in the future. Instead, let her talk (and even cry) about the things she’s worried about. Kids, like adults, just want to feel heard and understood.
- Be early. My worst “first day of school moment,” as a parent happened after we moved, and I underestimated the time it took to get to my kid’s school. I will never forget standing in the doorway of both my children’s classrooms. In both instances, the class had already started, and they were LATE! LATE on the first day! The kids recovered quickly but years later I am still traumatized. Moral of the story, Be Early!
Once school begins…
- Develop an after-school routine. Younger children will probably need to stay close to you while they complete their homework, perhaps at the kitchen table or in the den, as they may need your help and encouragement. Older children may prefer a quieter spot like their room or the library. Help your children find a specific spot to put their backpacks when they finish their homework to keep morning stress at a minimum.
- Encourage your child to get involved. There is a myriad of ways older children can find friends. In middle and high school they can join clubs, play on school athletic teams, participate in community service projects, and more. As a parent of a younger child, you’ll need to take the lead by arranging play dates and signing your child up for sports teams.
- Get involved at your child’s school. Sign up to volunteer in your child’s classroom. This is a great way to form relationships with your child’s teacher and classmates and also gain a sense of what your child’s school experience is like. In elementary school, socializing tends to be mom-driven, so getting to know the other students and moms can potentially offer your child more social opportunities.
Most of all, RELAX! The first days and weeks of a new school can be stressful with frequent ups and downs. Don’t overreact if things get rough. Stay calm and confident and remind yourself that adjusting to a new school takes time.
© Eleanor Munson, Ph.D. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Eleanor Munson, Ph.D. is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Eleanor Munson, Ph.D. with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.