Stay Cool for School

11 Tips for Calming New-School-Year Nerves

Doesn’t it always seem as if summer has just started when you start hearing the phrase “Back to school”? Those three words can inspire a variety of emotions—including giddy relief for some moms I know with tweens and teens at home! But parents who are sending their first child off to kindergarten may be blinking back tears, while kids of all ages may feel excitement, annoyance, anticipation, or even anxiety. If your child is experiencing severe nerves or dread about starting school this fall, here are 11 tips that can help ease the transition.

Talk about last year. If your child has been in school for a year or more, ask about the highlights and lowlights of the previous school year: What was easy? What was hard? What was fun? What was challenging? And what are their concerns about this year? It’s a good way to help them realize that there are always good and bad things that happen—and that they’ll always make it through!

Listen with empathy. Make sure you’re really hearing what your child has to say about the things he or she is afraid of or anxious about. Don’t judge or minimize their feelings; offer your love, support, reassurance. This builds an important emotional connection, and makes it more likely that your child will open up to you in the future.

Share your own stories. Even if you were a natural extrovert who loved every minute of your school experience (and if so, Who are you?), there were surely times in your childhood when something was scary or nervewracking. You’d be surprised how many kids never imagine that their parent was ever shy or scared or sad. Letting them know how you coped can go a long way in helping them cope with their own fears.

Offer constructive strategies. Rather than responding with non-helpful blanket statements like “It will be fine” or “Oh, don’t worry,” provide concrete suggestions for dealing with the kinds of scenarios they may encounter. Is he afraid because he’s starting a new school and doesn’t know what to expect? Let him know that many others—including teachers!—are probably feeling exactly the same way. Not only does this distract from his own fears, it also helps build empathy as he considers others’ feelings. Is she worried about keeping up with the workload? Encourage her to let the teacher know that she wants to do well and that she may have questions: This is music to a teacher’s ears!

Help them learn how to make friends. Adults often think that if you just throw together kids of the same age, friendships will happen automatically. Does this happen in a room full of 35-year-olds? Right. Everyone can use a few helpful techniques. Number one: Introduce yourself. “Hi, my name is —, what’s yours?” is a surprisingly effective conversation starter. Teach your child to ask polite questions, and to express interest in others. This also helps get your child out of his own head, which is not a bad thing!

Kick them out—side. Obviously, no kicking is involved. But exercise is a natural stress-buster, so if kids can do some healthy running around during the day, they’ll sleep more soundly at night and feel better overall.

Learn the lay of the land. If your child is starting at a brand-new school, do all you can to familiarize her and yourself with it: Drive the route to school; walk the campus and meet or email the teacher, if possible; attend any orientation meetings they offer. There’s nothing like familiarity to create a sense of confidence.

Set the clock back. Well no, not literally. But start the early-to-bed-early-to-rise routine at least a week before school starts. Ease back the bedtime by about 15 minutes each night. You don’t want that first morning to be a psychological and physical shock to the system!

Start the morning-of the night before. Banish last-minute stress from the first day of school! Before bed the night before, try to have the school clothes picked out (and clean!), the lunches packed, the bookbag prepared. It’s so much better to walk out the door feeling relaxed and ready than pulling your hair out in a frenzy!

Look in the mirror. Okay Mom, Dad—how are you feeling about the first day of school? Is your heart beating fast at the thought of sending your little one into the big world? Are you fearful that your child won’t make friends? Might you be projecting your own fears in such a way that your child is internalizing them? Give yourself the pep talk you’re giving your child.

Then give yourself and your kids some praise—for being brave, for stepping out of your comfort zones, for a job well done. You all deserve it.