Easing Back to School Anxiety

Lynchburg, VA - First day of school anxiety can really make the transition back to school a tough one.

Couples and Kids in Lynchburg shared some good tips to get everyone in your family back into school mode.

The following is information taken from an article written by Ted Feinberg, EdD, NCSP and Katherine C. Cowan, National Association of School Psychologists. We have found it helpful to make copies to give to the parents and grandparents who utilize our services here at Mental Health America of Central Virginia and Couples & Kids.

Parental involvement is one of the clearest indicators of a child's success.

Getting a new school year off to a good start can influence children's attitude, confidence, and performance both socially and academically. The transition from August to September can be difficult for both children and parents. Here are a few suggestions to help ease the transition:

Be sure your child is in good physical and mental health. Schedule doctor and dental checkups early. Discuss any concerns you have with your doctor concerning your child's emotional or psychological development.

Review all material sent by the school as soon as it arrives. These packets include important information about your child's teacher, room number, school supplies; sign- ups for after school sports and activities, school calendar dates, bus transportation, health and emergency forms, and volunteer opportunities.

Mark your calendar. Make note of important dates, especially back-to-school nights. Arrange for a babysitter.

Make copies of your child's health and emergency information for reference.

Re-establish the bedtime and mealtime routines at least one week prior to the beginning of school. Prepare your child by talking about the benefits of school routines in terms of not becoming over tired or overwhelmed by school work or activities.

Turn off the TV. Encourage your child to play quiet games, do puzzles, flash cards, color, or read as early morning activities instead of watching television. It will help ease your child into the learning process and school routine.

Visit school with your child and take a tour. If your child is young or in a new school, visit the school with your child. Meeting the teacher, locating their classroom, locker, lunchroom, etc., will help ease pre-school anxieties and also allow your child to ask questions about the new environment. Call ahead and make sure the teachers will be available to introduce themselves to your child.

Minimize clothes shopping woes by buying only the essentials. Check with your school to confirm dress code guidelines.

Designate and clear a place to do homework. Older children should have the option of studying in their room or a quiet area of the house. Younger children usually need an area set aside in the family room or kitchen to facilitate adult monitoring, supervision, and encouragement.

Select a spot to keep backpacks and lunch boxes. Designate a spot for your children to place their school belongings as well as a place to put important notices and information sent home for you to see. Explain that emptying their backpack each evening is part of their responsibility, even young children.

Freeze a few easy dinners to make it easier for you so that meal preparation will not add to the household tensions during the first week of school.

Clear your own schedule as much as you can. Postpone trips, meetings, and extra projects. You want to be free to help your child acclimate to the school routine and overcome the confusion or anxiety that many children experience at the start of the school year.

Make lunches the night before. Older children can help to make their own.

Set alarm clocks. Have school-age children set their own alarm clocks to get up in the morning. Praise them for prompt response to morning schedules and bus pickups.

Leave plenty of extra time. Make sure your child has plenty of time to get up, eat breakfast, and get to school. For very young children taking the bus, pin to their backpack an index card with bus number, teacher's name, as well as contact information.

Review with your child what to do if he or she gets home after school and you are not there. Be very specific, particularly with young children. Put a card in their backpack with the names(s) and number of a neighbor who is home during the day as well as a number where you can be reached. If you have not already done so, have your child meet neighbor contacts to reaffirm the backup support personally.

Review your child's school books. Talk about what your child will be learning during the year. Share your enthusiasm for the subjects and your confidence in your child's ability to master content. Reinforce that learning skills take time and repetition. Encourage your child to be patient, attentive, and positive.

Send a brief note to your child's teacher. Let the teachers know that you are interested in getting regular feedback on how and what your child is doing in school. Attend back-to-school night and introduce yourself to the teachers. Find out how they like to communicate (notes, e-mail, or phone). Also, try volunteering at the school!

Let your child know you care. If your child is anxious about school, send personal notes in the lunch box or back pack. Children absorb their parent's anxiety, so model optimism and confidence for your child. Let your child know that it is natural to be a little nervous anytime you start something new, but that your child will be fine once he or she becomes familiar with classmates, the teacher, and school routine. Make yourself available to them!

Do not overreact. If the first few days are a little rough, try not to overreact. Young children may experience separation anxiety or shyness initially, but teachers are trained to help them adjust. If you drop them off, try not to linger. Reassure them that you love them, will think about them during the day, and will be back.

Go for quality rather than quantity as far as extracurricular activities. Too much scheduled time can be stressful. Select activities where you have someone with whom you can carpool. Find out from the school which days will be heavy homework days or test study days and schedule extracurricular activities accordingly.

If your child does not want to participate in regular, organized extracurricular activities, consider other options to help build interests and social skills. For example, check out the local library for monthly reading programs, find out if your local recreation or community center offers drop-in activities, or talk to other parents and schedule regular play dates with their children.

If your child demonstrates problems that seem extreme or go on for an extended period, contact the school to set up an appointment to meet with your child's teachers or guidance counselors.