The start of a new school year can be both exciting and stressful for kids and parents alike. It’s an opportunity to make a fresh start, set goals, grow, and learn. Of course, there are also forms to fill out, school clothes and supplies to purchase, schedules to coordinate, and new routines to master. For kids, there are classmates and teachers to get to know, and new expectations to meet. And, when a whole new school is involved, it’s natural to feel a little nervous.
Whether your child is transitioning to a new school or a new school year, there are things you can do to help!
For Parents of Preschoolers
Is your child just beginning school? Are you wondering what you should be doing now to prepare and what it will be like when your child starts? Stefania Rubino, Lowell’s director of Pre-Primary School, suggests these online articles—all of which offer ways you can support your child from the summer before school starts through the first few weeks of school:
- “First-Day Jitters: Getting Kids Excited to Start Preschool,” by Isadora Fox, Ilisa Cohen, and Diane Debrovner
- “13 Tips for Starting Preschool,” by Diane Tunis, Rhonda Kleiner, and Fredda Band Loewenstein
- “Prepare your child for preschool during the summer,” by Christina Holt
The transition to school can cause normal separation anxiety in children. You can learn more about what’s normal, what you can do to ease the separation, and when to seek additional help in this article from helpguide.org: “Separation Anxiety in Children.”
For Parents of Older Kids
Adjusting to any new situation—a new school year, a new school, a new class—takes time and a few good coping skills. Lowell’s school counselor, Malikkah Rollins, MSW, shares these strategies for helping your elementary or middle school student:
- Talk to your child about the new school year. Check in periodically and see how they are doing. You may want to share your own childhood experiences of going back to school.
- Be a good listener. Allow your child to talk about what they might be anxious about, as well as things they might be excited about. Give your full attention and acknowledge your child’s feelings (i.e., “I know making friends isn’t always easy” or “It’s normal to feel nervous”).
- If your child is worried about something in particular—making friends or finding their way around their new school—help them strategize. Make sure they know about any resources available at school to help with the transition (speaking to a teacher or school counselor, for example). You can also remind them of other times when they overcame adversity: ask them how they were able to be successful and see if they can apply those tools to this school scenario. Making a list of things they can do and posting it on the fridge or in their room can be helpful as well.
- If your child has a hard time seeing the positives of a starting a new school, it’s okay to suggest some. You might point out the benefits of expanding their circle of friends or remind your child of other new beginnings they’ve experienced and enjoyed. And, who can resist the allure of new school supplies? Pencils with pristine erasers, colored pens, and blank notepads speak to all the possibilities of a new school year!
- Some children might prefer to write their feelings down on paper or draw/paint to express themselves. Making a picture, writing a letter to a special friend or relative, or keeping a journal might be helpful options for your child.
- Notice behavioral changes. Sometimes kids act differently when under stress, rather than expressing their feelings in words. If you notice a change, open the lines of communication.
- Don’t forget that kids often absorb their parents’ anxiety, so be aware of your own feelings about the changes ahead and try to separate yours from your child’s.
- Visit the new school ahead of time. Even if the school offices are closed for the summer, you might be able walk around the school to check out the playgrounds or sports fields. Also, many schools have an open house or orientation for new students; make sure your child is able to attend. Even if your school doesn’t have an open house or orientation, teachers and staff members arrive before the first day of school to set up. Ask if you can drop by on one of these days so your child can peek into the classroom, meet the teacher, and find the lunchroom and bathrooms.
- Call other parents and arrange play dates to help your child feel connected and make friends. Some schools will pair new students with buddies who can help them ease into the community before the first day of school.
- If your child is older, encourage them to participate in sports teams, clubs, or other after school activities. Often, sports teams start practicing before classes begin and are a good way for kids to meet classmates who have similar interests.
- Kids moving on to middle school often get lockers for the first time. Have your child practice working a combination lock to help prepare for day one.
- Find another child in the neighborhood with whom your child can go to school on the first day. Arriving at school with someone familiar can boost their confidence.
- Be as available as possible in the first few weeks after school starts. If you can, avoid trips or big projects that will keep you working late.
- Put notes of encouragement in your child’s lunch box or backpack. It’s a great lift in the middle of the day!