As a mom of three children—ages 20, 15 and 12—our family has had many first days of school, ranging from preschool to college. No matter how old my kids are, every year they each deal with back-to-school anxiety. I remember one first day several years ago when my youngest told me that he felt like he had frogs jumping in his tummy. It’s an exciting and stressful time for children, full of self-discovery and new experiences. Use these tips to soothe your family’s first-day jitters.
Visit the building before school starts
Take a tour of the school building and meet the principal and teachers, if possible. Often, just knowing where to go and what to expect will reduce your child’s anxiety.
Talk with children about personal first-day experiences
Share positive and appropriate stories from your own life about starting at a new school or different workplace with your child. Letting kids know that they are not the only ones who have felt that first-day nervousness helps them feel comfortable with these very normal feelings.
Go shopping for clothes and supplies together
Empower your children to be part of the preparation process. Let them pick out their favorite apparel, shoes or notebooks—within reason. For older kids, give them a budget and talk through their choices with them.
Encourage your children to be open, respectful and kind
Talk to your children about the importance of being respectful to all of the people they encounter at school, including other children, office staff, bus drivers, janitorial staff, teachers, administrators and other parents. Assure them of the valuable role that each person plays in the school community.
Also, share the advice that my mother gave me and I have told my children: “To have a friend, you have to be a friend.” Talk to your kids about what it takes to be a friend—getting to know someone’s name, smiling and looking people in the eye when they speak. Remind them that making a friend might involve taking initiative, such as inviting someone to sit together at lunch or play together at recess.
Be there for them
If your schedule allows, take your child to school or the bus stop on the first day and meet them there afterward. Don’t pester them with too many questions. Let them share when they are ready.
Leaving the familiarity of home and becoming acclimated to the larger world is a normal and necessary part of growing up. I’ve realized that as a mom, I am an anchor for my kids. Even though I may be dealing with my own stress about the start of the school year, my job is to remain bigger, kinder, stronger and wiser, assuring my kids that I am a safe place for them to process their new experiences. And even though the first day brings anxiety, having the opportunity and privilege to obtain an education is something to celebrate!
Tamara Fyke is an educator and creative entrepreneur with a passion for kids, families, and urban communities. She is the creator, author and brand manager for Love In A Big World, which equips K-8 educators with a social-emotional learning (SEL) curriculum, as well as the editor of the new book, Building People: Social & Emotional Learning for Kids, Schools & Communities.