Heading back to school can be an exciting and fun time of year. Between shopping for that perfect first day outfit and super cute backpack to learning who your child’s new teacher will be, there’s so much to look forward to. But as with most anything that is new, it’s not uncommon for parents and children to feel a range of emotions, including fear and anxiety, as the school year begins.
The great news is, there are several simple ways to ease the back to school jitters for you and your child.
- It is so important to recognize your little (or big) kiddo doesn’t always know what they’re feeling. The first step is to have lots of conversation to help them label those emotions. Then, and most importantly, validate that what they’re feeling is okay and you are a safe person to share those feelings with.
- When children enter a new environment, there’s often worry they won’t know what to do or won’t be safe to be themselves. Drop-offs can even often be difficult during a new transition. Talk through those worries with them and provide reminders they are safe and you will be there to pick them up (or drop them off) each day. Have something consistent to do together the first couple of weeks, like enjoying his/her favorite snack after pick up or going to the park.
- Have fun with your child and come up with creative objects to find, people to talk to or interesting new facts to learn for the end of the school day, which can then lead to a reward (5 extra minutes of reading time, more screen time or getting to watch their favorite show). One idea is to encourage them to talk to one new person and learn their name and to then share with the family at dinner that evening. Everyone likes to have something to look forward to at the end of the day!
- Create a mantra for your child – a saying they can repeat when they begin to feel overwhelmed or stressed. Expressions like “I am strong, I can do hard things,” “I believe in myself” or “I’ve done this before and it will be okay!” are all helpful in putting your child in a positive mindset.
- Give your child something to have control over, whether that’s choosing what color backpack to buy or letting them pick out what they want to eat for lunch each day. Find what matters to them and give them some independence to make choices that give them confidence.
Above all, make your home a safe and comforting space for your son or daughter to share the big emotions they’re experiencing leading up to school starting, as well as, the good and the bad feelings once school has begun. Our kiddos have big emotions in those little bodies and you are the key to helping guide them through these big moments in life.
Erin Engelke, APR is a Mom of three children and Executive Director of Calm Waters, Oklahoma City’s grief center, providing grief support groups and counseling to children, teens and adults throughout the metro Oklahoma City community. For more information, visit www.calmwaters.org.