You sprang for the sparkly pencils, the must-have lunch box, the multi-pocket folders. You bought the colored jeans, the cool-kid socks, the character tees. You stocked up on mini-muffins, mini carrots, mini yogurts. You moved bedtime up an hour (despite your child’s protests), went to the meet-and-greet (never letting go of your child’s hand), talked enthusiastically about 2nd grade or 5th grade or whatever grade your child is entering. You did everything you could possibly do to get your child ready and yet you know, deep in your gut, that first morning is likely to be disastrous.
It’s right about now that school jitters take hold, building to a crescendo the night before and ending in tears (or worse) that first day. In addition to the obvious (see first paragraph), there are a few simple but surprisingly effective less obvious things you can do to ease your child’s re-entry:
- Go to school. Literally. Get in the car and drive your child to school. Get out, walk around, play on the playground. Or drive to the drop-off spot, say your (pretend) good-byes, and have your child mosey on up to the door.
Make it fun. Add creative twists. Tell your child to touch the door with 6 body parts before returning to the car. Or march to the door. Or slide-step. Sing a goofy song, loudly, as your child runs to the door to escape your voice. Loop around the school and do it again.
Being at school prior to that first day helps – a lot. It desensitizes your child to the building/grounds and gives him a set of recent, funny, positive memories to take with him that first day. The more you do this between now and the first day of school, the more effective it will be. Even a two-minute drive up, get out of the car and heel-to-toe step to the school’s front door will work wonders (note: you stay in the car! If your child can’t manage this, practice it over and over again until he can). And if your child takes the bus, make practice runs to the bus stop. Create a mini scavenger hunt or have your child hop on one foot until 2 red cars drive by or, well, you get the idea.
- Set aside some talking-about-school time each day. Ten minutes or so is optimal, although highly anxious children might need several blocks per day. Call it something ("Let’s do our talking about school time"). Separate it from bedtime.
During this time, talk about school in lots of ways: the fun parts, the parts that make kids nervous, the things your child is looking forward to and the questions or fears she has. When 10 minutes is up, announce that the talking-about-school time is over.
If your child brings up anxiety about school at any other time, remind him he can talk about that during your next talk-about-school time and help him shift his attention to something else.
This is a containment strategy that will put you in good stead that last night before school when your child gets flooded by fears. You (and she) will have already practiced giving her fears limited air time and shifting to something else when the time isn’t right – like 9pm that night before school.
- Normalize your child’s feelings. Virtually everyone feels both nervous and excited that first day. Julie Danneberg provides a particularly humorous twist in her book, First Day Jitters. Check it out.