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Back to School Anxiety: How Parents & Children Can Embrace The First Day of School

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FORT LAUDERDALE-DAVIE, Fla. – Starting school for the first time can be a very scary ordeal, and not just for children. Parents, too, can become very anxious and emotional when they are dropping off their “babies” for the first day of school.

For children, it’s the realization that they are going to be in a strange place with new people; for parents, it’s that their child will be in a setting in which they are not able to be there in case he/she needs them.   It doesn’t have to be so scary. With the implementation of a few strategies, you can make this transition successful for the entire family.

First, monitor your own anxiety and worry and try to paint the picture that your child is ready for this transition and will have a great time learning and making new friends.  Children reference the level of fear and worry from their primary caregiver, so if you’re worried, so, too, will be your child. Encourage your child and be confident in his/her ability to navigate in a new setting.  Reading books together, such as “The Kissing Hand” or “The Night Before Kindergarten,” is a great way to begin discussing what is likely to happen, how you and your child may feel, and things to do to help cope with missing each other.

Second, it’s helpful to begin preparing for the start of school before the first day arrives.  Talk with your child and emphasize how proud you are of him/her and how ready he/she is for this transition to instill confidence and enthusiasm in this new experience.  Ask your child about what he/she sees as good things about school and discuss ways to handle things he/she may see as challenging are helpful as well.  Discuss what to expect when you get to school and if possible, visit the school together and meet the teacher ahead of time.

So what do you do if you take all these precautions and your child still cries when you get ready to drop him/her off on the first day?

It is important that you’re supportive and calm, but firm in your decision to have your child remain at school.  Setting the tone that this will be a positive experience is critical because if your child senses you are anxious about leaving him/her, the crying and protests will escalate.  Many teachers in early childhood settings have training and experience in this area and know how to use techniques, such as distraction and encouragement, to make the transition easier in the first few days.  It is important that you trust that they will do their jobs and follow the school’s established drop-off procedures.

Kiss your child good-bye, express your love, and let them know when you will return.  Then exit the classroom and leave it to the teacher to handle the tears (your tears, on the other hand, are beyond the teacher’s reach!)

Normally, after a few days, the drop-off will go smoothly.  However, if this doesn’t occur and your child continues to have difficulty after a week or two, it’s time to talk with a school counselor, school psychologist or administrator.  It’s important to intervene as soon as possible, especially if your child is transitioning to kindergarten, because school refusal difficulties may persist into later years if not addressed in the best possible manner when first beginning formal schooling.

Anything new in life can be daunting, including starting school. But if you work together, you and your child will look back fondly on the day as the start of a new chapter both your lives.

 


About the Author:
Angela Waguespack, Ph.D., is an associate professor and the academic program administrator of the school psychology program in Nova Southeastern University’s Center for Psychological Studies. Prior to joining the faculty at NSU in 2001, Waguespack worked as a school psychologist for the School Board of Broward County, Florida for several years, addressing the needs of children at-risk for school failure, as well as those with various learning, behavioral, and social-emotional disabilities.

Waguespack’s main interests involve school-based consultation and collaboration; academic, behavioral, and social-emotional interventions with children and adolescents; and school and community service delivery models based on a multi-tiered system of support.  She currently serves as the senior program director at NSU with the summer reading explorers program, a collaborative grant project with Florida International University’s Center for Children and Families/The Children’s Trust in Miami-Dade County, in which young children and families are provided reading intervention and family literacy activities in diverse summer camp settings throughout the county.