Alleviating Anxiety for the New School Year
As summer vacation draws closer and closer to its end, more and more students begin thinking about the many challenges their new school year will bring. For most students there is a mixture of excitement and unease. Here are 4 simple ways to make the move to the next grade more enjoyable for everyone:
1. Try to arrange a meeting with the teacher or principal before the beginning of the new school year. Many teachers work before the opening day of school, readying their rooms for a new year. If your child has tremendous anxiety about meeting their new teacher, contact the school before opening day. If your child's teacher is not in, leave a message, and if possible, the teacher may be able to get back to you. Tell the school about your child's anxiety, and why you'd like to contact the teacher. Remember, however, that many teachers do not visit their schools over the summer break; your message may not be received quickly. If the teacher does not contact you, you may try contacting the building principal to arrange a brief meeting. The principal may be able to show your child their new classroom, bathroom locations, etc., even if the teacher is not present.
2. Network with other parents and students. Often, children play on teams or go to camps with other kids who are of various ages. If you know a child who has been through the grade your child is entering, talk to the older child's parents. They can help you to know what to expect in the coming year, especially with concerns such as homework, class rules and expectations, and other areas of frequent concern. If they had a particularly positive experience, you may want your child to talk to the older child; advice and information is often best received from a thoughtful peer. Always keep in mind, however, that each child's individual experiences will be different, even with the same teacher.
3. Do summer assignments in advance. No one likes being under pressure in a new situation, but for children that don't complete expected reading assignments or other homework during the summer break, returning to school can seem like the beginning of a nightmare. By having your child complete their tasks over the course of the entire summer, they can complete everything they need in a relaxed, casual manner. This will help your child feel positive and confident for their first day. Children who try to cram their assignments in shortly before the beginning of the year (or who don't do them at all) will be more prone to feel nervousness and anxiety about their new learning situation.
4. Use school supply information sent by the school to shop in advance. Many schools send out the materials lists for the next grade at the beginning of the summer break; luckily, many retailers are now stocking their shelves with back-to-school merchandise soon after July 4th. If you have your child's required supply list, try to take them shopping for their supplies early in the summer. That way, they will feel more confident knowing they have all the materials they need for a new school year. Also, by beginning early, supplies can be bought in several trips, eliminating the need of paying for supplies in one large lump sum the week before school begins.
By following these simple steps, most children will be off to a great new start for a new school year! (more next column)
How Much is Too Much?
Every child feels some sense of nervousness at the thought of beginning a new school year. A few late nights or fluttery tummies in the days before school begins are often signals not only of nervousness, but also of excitement at seeing old friends and meeting new people.
However, for some children the beginning of a new school year brings on a sense of terrific anxiety and stress for a variety of reasons. Sometimes students need to learn new ways to adjust to their new schedules and environments. Other times, previous incidents can contribute to the perception of future problems. If your child exhibits some of these symptoms for more than the first few days of the new school year, you may want to contact your child's teacher, your pediatrician, or the school counselor for suggestions on how to help alleviate your child's unease. Getting professional help will help make the transition easier for you and your child. Some behaviors to watch for are:
- Physical illness (vomiting, diarrhea, or other symptoms)
- Excessive crying/ tantrums
- Avoidance behaviors (hiding, purposely missing the bus)
- Aggressiveness (hitting, kicking, biting)
- Lack of appetite
- Withdrawal from family/activities
Remember, it is perfectly natural for your child to be nervous, excited, anxious and eager all at the same time leading up to (and during the first days of) the school year. However, if you are concerned about your child due to the intensity or duration of their behavior, please seek professional assistance from the school or your pediatrician so that the situation can be remedied as quickly as possible.