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It’s that time of year again. Time to head back to school.  All transitions are stressful and, for families with young children, back-to-school time can be particularly difficult.  Gone are the easy-breezy days of beach trips, picnic lunches, and lazy pj-clad mornings.  In their place you have car pools, early morning wake-up calls, and daily homework. 

This transition period is even more difficult when children aren’t so thrilled with the prospect of returning to school. There are lots of reasons kids may have back-to-school jitters including anxiety about:

  • fitting in
  • being able to keep up with new schoolwork
  • making new friends
  • getting a “mean” teacher
  • finding their way around a new school
  • being bullied or picked on

So, let’s talk about how to help them cope. Because calmer kids mean smoother transitions.  And that is good for everyone!

Part 1: Dealing with Back to School Jitters

Children respond in a variety of ways to the idea of going back to school. Some may feel “butterflies in the tummy” and insist of finding the perfect first day outfit.  Some may ask nonstop questions, have difficulty sleeping or eating, or become irritable and edgy.  A few may even respond with tantrums, tears or a refusal to go to school. Here are some ways you can help them deal with their current anxiety AND learn how to manage transitions for life.

  1. Help your child verbalize feelings.  It is tough for a lot of adults to put words to their anxious thoughts.  Help your child master this skill by asking them directly what they are anxious about.  Is she afraid that no one will like her or is it that she doesn’t know where her locker is?  Listen attentively without dismissing his fears with reassurance that “everything will be fine.”  Assure them that it is normal to feel some anxiety when faced with a new situation.
  2. Teach problem-solving skills.  Help your child come up with coping strategies for dealing with her worst-case scenarios.  Many times as parents we rush in with our own solutions – often exacerbating rather than solving the problem.  Ask your child what he thinks would help.  If he is stumped, help him generate a list of potential responses.  Try to come up with specific, workable solutions that “fit” your child’s personality.  For example, a trip to the school to map out classrooms, bathrooms, cafeteria, and locker might be just the ticket for a child worried about not being able to navigate a new building while setting up a morning meetup with a friend so that your child doesn’t have to walk into a new classroom alone might help a shy child worried about not having anyone to talk to. Here’s a nice worksheet, Problem Solving for Kids.
  3. Reinforce past success.  Remind your child of other times she has faced a new situation.  Help her focus on the skills she has already acquired. Remembering how nervous he was the first day of summer camp and how he coped and was able to make friends could be just the courage-builder he needs.
  4. Have faith in your child.  Children take the cues from us.  By showing her that you have confidence in her ability to cope with school, you are building her confidence in herself.  You are sending the message that this is a situation she can handle.
  5. Limit other stressors.  We all cope better when we are well-rested and well-fed.  As tempting as it is to indulge in one last get-away, your child will be well served by some structure right now.  Start slowing down the summer fun and getting back into the school year groove now.  In Part 2, I will talk more about this really important subject.

 In Part 2 we will look at how establishing a Back-to-School Routine can make the coming days easier.  And, in Part 3 I will be sharing some fun new Back-to-School Traditions that might even get those kiddos looking forward to the return of the classroom.


Wikipedia: Part 3 is the fourth studio album by the funk and disco group KC and the Sunshine Band.

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