Back to School Cheat Sheet

All children have some back to school jitters or apprehension, and this is often combined with some excitement. If your child is having difficulty sleeping, asking lots of what if questions, crying, clinging, or whining more than usual, these may be signs of anxiety.

  • Normalize their fears—every child is feeling the same thing as they are—even the teachers feel nervous at first when school starts.
  • Share a story of your own about going to school or another new situation.
  • Let your child know that things don’t stay new forever. Help them think of a time when they were faced with something new and got used to it. How long did it take?
  • Help the adjustment: Arrange a pleasant visit at school, eat a snack in the playground, check out the library, say hello to the teacher.
  • At home, play “school” switch off roles letting your child be the teacher and himself.
  • Have your child make a list of fears on one side of the page, then help correct the distortions and misperceptions and have the “facts” on the other side of the page. Fold the paper and keep the facts side up.
  • If your child is feeling afraid, help him to reduce the power of his worries by saying them in a silly, squeaky voice.
  • Give the worry a name like the “worry bug” and practice using a firm voice to boss back the worry.
  • If there are concrete issues think up strategies for finding the right bus line, finding a seat in the cafeteria.
  • Fight the Fear with Fun! Turn the school preparation process into a fun and even social event—go shopping with friends for school supplies or lunch boxes, decorate books together.
  • Work on lunch menus together, young kids can create or decorate a menu.
  • Work on the backpack—put phone numbers, bus numbers in a safe place, find a picture or momento to bring some of home into school with you.

Don’t be afraid of your children’s fears. Some fear is a normal reaction to a new situation, so take a deep breath yourself and don’t race ahead with worry. If you stay calm, your child will know that they’re going to be fine.

tamar chansky phd

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