Heading back to school can cause jitters for both parents and kids.
Between school supply shopping and end of summer activities, the lead-up to the 1st day of school can be full of excitement. But, the transition from relaxing summer fun to more structured fall routines may also cause some kids to feel nervous. Whether your child is starting Kindergarten or moving to a new school, here are five ways to help kids cope with the back-to-school jitters.
1. Normalize Their Feelings
It’s normal to experience increase anxiety during major life changes. Consider how adults feel when starting a new job or project at work. Kids experience similar human responses to the back-to-school transition. Parents can help kids understand that feelings of nervousness or fear or not “bad” feelings and it is okay for them to be fearful about going into a new classroom or school setting.
Giving children permission to feel their emotions also helps build emotional intelligence without feeling ashamed. Kids will continue to vocalize their concerns when they feel heard instead of judged. If parents have a child that isn’t comfortable being vocal or unable to find the words to express their feelings, they can use creative means like drawing, singing, or role playing with toys to help them better communicate their feelings.
2. Identify The Root Cause
Another way that parents can help calm the back -to-school jitters is by helping kids identify the root cause. As we talk to our kids we should ask open ended questions like, “What are your fears?” or “What makes you feel this way?”. Then listen attentively. We may assume that our child is nervous about making new friends when they are actually concerned with a specific subject they struggled with last year.
Dr. Twyla Williams, Director Counseling Crisis & Mental Health at Austin Independent School District (AISD), also suggest that we ask kids, “Where in their body are they feeling the jitters?”. She says the goal is to equip kids with techniques to regulate themselves. For example, if a child is feeling the jitters in their tummy you can have them practice putting their hands on their tummy and taking deep breaths to remain calm.
3. Make School Familiar
Routines help children establish a since or security and consistency and fear of the unknown is often the source of back-to school jitters. Parents can make the upcoming school year more familiar by introducing children to their new school routine. AISD Director of Social and Emotional Wellness and Systems of Support, Dr. Jane Ross, advises parents to visit the school a week before the first day of class. She noted that practicing waking up, getting dressed, eating breakfast, and going to the school building will help both parents and kids get familiar with the sights, sounds, and smells of their new environment.
Many schools offer meet the teacher night and parents can take advantage of the opportunity to introduce their kids to their new teacher, tour the school, and meet some of their new classmates. However, for some students, meet the teacher night is not enough to feel comfortable. In those cases, Dr. Williams suggest parents arrange to meet the teacher one on one. She says some kids need more time and focused attention to build trust with their teacher.
4. Set Goals
Visualizing trains your brain for a desired outcome. Parents can help kids practice being successful by setting goals for the upcoming school year. Dr. Williams suggest getting kids engaged by creating vision boards that display 1-2 things they are looking forward to or things they wish to work on this year. Aside from giving kids something to look forward to, identifying skills they want to learn or improve also helps foster a growth mindset.
Not all the goals have to be academically focused. Parents can also help guide kids to set goals for dealing with setbacks or difficult classmates. Dr. Ross suggest role playing to practice “what if” social scenarios. This allows kids to think about how they would react to awkward or uncomfortable situations such having no one to sit with in the cafeteria or getting their period at school.
5. Ask For Help
Most back-to-school jitters go away shortly after kids settle in. But if your child needs some extra TLC, be sure to reach out to your school counselor. Counselors are professionally trained and equipped to help kids deal with social and emotional challenges both in and out of the classroom. “They’re one of the biggest kept secrets”, says Dr Williams. She and Dr. Ross encourage parents to reach out even if it is to say, “I don’t know what’s going on but here is what I am observing”.
In addition to literary resources, counselors work with licensed mental health professionals and parent support specialist to provide wrap around services for the whole family. Parents can get connected to resources for clothing, housing, health care and other social services. Children learn best when their social and emotional needs are met and Dr. Williams says her counselors are ready!
Each school year may bring on new challenges and another case of the jitters. Take time during the back-to-school season to listen, observe, and prepare your child for a successful school year.