BACK-TO-SCHOOL TEARS, FEARS and CHEERS
The Crucial Dos and Don’ts of Helping Your Child Cope with New Situations Like School
Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman
My nieces and nephews all went back to school today. So it got me thinking. Do you remember your first day of school?
It was the first September after I turned 5 years old. Every child’s right of passage. New school. New teacher. New everything.
I was holding my Mom’s hand tightly. With 2 hands. You know the feeling; my brain wanted to leap forward but my body wanted to hide behind my Mommy at the same time.
We strolled together across the parking lot towards Mt. Pleasant Elementary School in West Orange, NJ with my brother, Scott, who was returning for his third grade year and Marc, who was going to be a big-league 6th grader. As Mrs. Wong’s Kindergarten classroom loomed ahead, I recall asking Scott a string of questions; “What’s going to happen in there? Will I know anybody? If I don’t like it, can I come to your class instead?” Mom squeezed my hand. I saw it as a sign of reassurance but found out not too long ago that it was coupled with her own disbelief that I was really old enough to enter kindergarten. I was her youngest and her little girl. Perhaps you can relate.
New situations, like going to school, are typically anxiety provoking. It’s normal. After all, they’re filled with unfamiliar people, unfamiliar things, and unfamiliar activities. Such changes can bring on both tears and fears … not just for the child but for parents too!
So before I leap into tips that can help your child feel more comfortable in new situations, it’s necessary to subside our own fears first. Take a breath. Talk to a more experienced friend, partner, or parent. Remain calm and avoid falling into the role of overprotective “Helicopter Parent.”
Here’s the bottom line: If you feel worried about leaving your child in a new situation, your child will likely sense these fears and become even more upset.
Once you feel confident and ready, your child will be more likely to follow suit. So here are some tips to help ease your child’s transition into new environments:
1. Let your children know that it’s normal to be nervous when going somewhere new and that many of the other children are likely feeling the same way. You can even share your own experiences of when you were scared and how once you met people; you had a good time and weren’t scared anymore.
2. Integrate “courageous” language into your family: Talk about ways that people in your family, including your children, are brave each day.
3. Keep your children informed about the schedule for the week. You can remind them about what will be happening the next day so that they can prepare themselves mentally and physically. Make sure that your children have everything they will need for the following day, so that they are ready and calm when the next day rolls around.
4. Ask your children about how they feel: Be open to talking about both the excitement and the concerns they are feeling in light of these new environments. Sometimes just listening can help these fears subside.
5. Point out the positive aspects of trying new things and being in new places. Remind your children of how wonderful it is to meet new friends, participate in new activities, and make new memories. Bring up old friends and activities that they enjoy now but that were once new and scary to them.
6. Let your children know that you are thinking of them when they are in their new environments. Leave a note in their notebooks, book-bags, or lunchboxes, that will remind them that you’re proud of them and know that they’ll do great.
7. Try to arrange for your children to meet a classmate or two before school starts so that they know someone when starting something new. To help foster friendships, don’t rush in and out. It’s a good idea to allow children some time before and after class to talk with other classmates so that they can make friends.
8. Talk to your children’s teachers when your children feel especially nervous. A good teacher can help fearful children by linking them with friendly, outgoing buddies or simply by supporting and encouraging them.
9. Don’t be late! One sure fire way to raise the anxiety levels of children when starting something new is to run late. Children should feel relaxed and unrushed so that they can get their bearings and prepare for class. Being a little bit early will allow your children some time to talk to new friends and to the teacher.
10. Don’t compare: It is best to avoid comparing your child to more outgoing siblings or friends in an effort to encourage him or her to be more like them. This is not only unhelpful but it can make a child feel like s/he can’t measure up.
11. Don’t dismiss your children’s fears: Using statements like “Don’t be silly; there’s nothing to be afraid of” only frustrates children because their fears are not being validated. Rather, offer support by statements such as “I know you’re feeling nervous but you’re the kind of person that everyone likes once they get to know you. I know you can do it!”
12. Don’t tease them: Telling children that they are “acting like babies” or that “big kids aren’t scared” doesn’t help to address fears. It just makes them feel bad.
13. Don’t avoid it: This will only prolong the inevitable. It is best to help children to deal with their fears head on so that their fears subside. What will help them to feel more at ease?
Finally, don’t quit. Take it one step at a time. Congratulate your child (and yourself!) for each small step taken. Even though it may take some time, encourage your children to persevere! Let them know that they have your support no matter how long it takes. With your help, fears and tears will become cheers. Their anxieties will subside, and in time, so will yours!
How are you feeling about the start of school? What was your child’s first day or school like? What great tips do you have for parents shuttling their children to school for the first time?
Your comments are appreciated and valued! Please comment below now!
Have a Powerful Weekend!