Summertime offers a much-needed break from the demands and stresses of school. But sometimes when kids head back to school, they feel anxious and nervous. This year may be especially stressful if kids are returning to in-person school after learning at home for so long.
While you might not be able to snuff out all of your grade-schooler’s concerns, you can help calm those normal first-day jitters. Here are some key ways.
1. Talk about feelings.
Young kids don’t always have the exact words to express their complex emotions. And kids who struggle in school often have a more difficult time reaching out when they feel grumpy or upset. Instead of a clear-cut conversation, kids might express their feelings by acting out or being crankier.
Give your grade-schooler plenty of opportunities to talk about feelings. You can say things like “You seem to be very grumpy lately, and that’s not like you. Are you thinking about the first day of school?” Or “Going back to school can be scary. Is there something you’re worried about?” Explore other questions to get them talking about school.
2. Go over the class list.
Schools don’t always like to give out class lists before the first day. But you can always ask. Check to see if your child knows any of the other kids in the class. This can provide a feeling of stability. If there are kids you know your child has had a hard time with, you can brainstorm ways of dealing with them. You can also remind your child that all people grow and change. Maybe kids who were hard to cope with in the past will have new skills this year.
3. Run through the day.
Most kids don’t look forward to switching gears from their more casual summer schedule to a stricter school mode. And for kids who learn and think differently, this change can result in even more anxiety. Running through the new daily routine before the first day can do wonders to help with your child’s nervousness.
Go over the morning drill. What time will your child need to get up? When will you leave the house? Where and when does the bus arrive? Do the same with the afternoon schedule. How will your child get home? When will homework be done? Factor in afterschool activities, too.
See if you can visit the school before the new year begins. Your child can get comfortable with the layout of the building and classroom ahead of time.
4. Practice first-day conversations.
The first day of school means lots of conversation. For kids who struggle with social skills, that can feel overwhelming and stressful.
Discuss and even rehearse common interactions that you know your child will have with other kids and teachers. Practice introductions: “Hi. I heard you were in my class. How was your summer?” and “Hi. I’m Annie. Art is my favorite class. Do you think we’ll get to do pottery this year?” Practice how to greet a familiar face, too: “It’s great to see you! I think we’re in the same class. I’m glad.”
5. Talk about the teacher.
Kids who struggle with behavior may have another concern about walking into the classroom on the first day: What if the teacher is mean? What if the teacher doesn’t like me?
You can reassure your child that the teacher is there to help and understands that many kids need extra support. Explain that you and the teacher will work together to make sure their needs are met. Having your child meet the teacher ahead of time can also help your child feel more comfortable.
6. Talk about school support.
If your child has an , a , or informal classroom supports, explain how these work. For instance: “You’ll have a little more time to complete the writing assignments, and you can do them in a quiet room.” Or “A teacher might take you out in the hall to work on math sometimes.”
Remind your child of the awesome support system that’s already in place and of all the people to go to for help. Your child could talk to a counselor, a case manager, the school nurse, or another staff member. If your child has a “go-to” person — maybe someone who helped a lot last year — try to meet with that person before school starts.
About the author
About the author
The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.
Mark J. Griffin, PhD has been a professional in the field of learning disabilities for over 45 years. He was the founding headmaster of Eagle Hill School.