1. Focus on feelings.
Young kids don’t always have the words to express their emotions. And certain learning and thinking differences can make it even more difficult. What you might get from your child instead of conversation is acting out or being cranky.
Give your child opportunities to talk by saying 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 ask to get your child talking about school.
2. Go over the class list.
Schools don’t always like to give them out, but ask if you can get your child’s class list before the start of school. Even if it’s the day before, looking at the list takes away at least one piece of uncertainty.
If there are kids she likes in her class, she may look forward to seeing them. If there are kids she doesn’t like or has a hard time with, you can brainstorm ways of dealing with them to give her some control over the situation.
3. Go through the drill.
Most kids don’t look forward to switching gears from summer mode to school mode. But for kids with certain learning and thinking differences, that shift can cause even more anxiety. Walking through the new daily routine in advance can help, even it’s the same as last year’s.
Go over the morning drill—what time she needs to get up, when you’ll leave the house, where and when the bus will arrive. Do the same with the afternoon schedule—when school ends, who will pick her up at the bus stop, when she’ll do homework. Factor in afterschool activities, too. And if possible, schedule a school visit before the new year begins. This way your child can get used to the layout of the school and classroom ahead of time.
4. Practice first-day interactions.
The first day of school means lots of conversation. For kids who struggle with social skills, that can be very difficult—and stressful.
Discuss and rehearse conversations you know your child will have with other kids and the teacher. Give her words to say when introducing herself: “Hi. I heard you were in my class. How was your summer?” and “Hi. I’m Annie. Art is my favorite class. Will we 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 of school: What if the teacher doesn’t like me, or is mean?
Reassure her that the teacher is there to help her learn and understands that sometimes she may need extra support. Explain that you and the teacher will work together to make sure she gets the help she needs. Having your child meet the teacher ahead of time can also help your child feel more comfortable.
6. Explain how school will support her.
If your child has an IEP, a 504 plan or informal classroom supports, explain how these work to help her at school. For instance: “You’ll have a little more time to complete the writing assignments and you can do them in a quiet room.”
Also tell her that there are plenty of people she can go to if she needs a hand. That might be a counselor, case manager, nurse or other staff people. If your child has a “go-to” person—maybe someone who helped her a lot last year—try to meet with that person before school starts. That can remind your child she has a support system in place.