Anxiety in children is often due to fear of the unknown. They may by thinking: What will happen if I get lost between classes? What if no one will sit with me at lunch? How much homework will I have? Often, this anxiety will dissipate after a child starts the new activity and gains a better understanding of the new environment. And while this is not a replacement for real-life experiences, you as a parent can go over some possible scenarios and plans of action with your child before the activity to help reduce some initial anxiety. These strategies are most helpful when parents can set a relaxed, comfortable tone. Examples of helpful interactions may include:
- Asking your child to “walk through” their day on a map. You can have your child trace the day on a map with a pen and talk through where they are going and when. When needed, you can ask what happens next.
- Reviewing with your child their list of needed materials. Ask your child to tell you what supplies are needed for each class, make a list, and go to the store and buy the items together. This activity may also get them excited about starting at school.
- Role-playing interactions with new people they are likely to encounter at school. Help your child identify potential anxiety-provoking situations, such as classmates at lunchtime. For example, you and your young child can use puppets to act out the child introducing him or herself to new classmates at lunch, standing up to a bully or asking a teacher or counselor for help. You can provide some direction and praise positive communication skills shown by your child in the role-play.
Starting the school year is an important and exciting step for your child, yet can be painful for a highly anxious child. As a parent, take solace knowing your loving support can help your child through these hurdles and onto having a wonderful school year. If you notice that your child requires an inordinate amount of reassurance from you and continues to experience excessive worry, consulting with a child psychologist is recommended.