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Banish Back to School Jitters: Ease first-day nerves for the best school year yet

New teachers, new friends, and new routines: the first day of school is loaded with fresh experiences and chock-full of excitement. It can also be filled with anxiety, particularly for young children or those transitioning to a new school.

Kids who feel uneasy about school starting may be reluctant to attend, or they might display their anxiety by acting out. Fortunately, parents can help ease first-day-of-school jitters and pave the way for school-year-success with some advance preparation.

Schedule Sync

Kids will have an easier time adjusting to the new school year if their inner rhythms are in sync. Help ensure that they’ll be awake and alert for their morning classes by transitioning to a school-year sleep routine before the first day.

To help them make a smooth transition, establish a school-year bedtime and wake-up time a couple of weeks before school begins. Prepare kids for busy mornings by practicing the morning routine of getting up, dressing, and eating breakfast at the time they’ll be getting ready for school.

New Traditions

Give kids something to look forward to after the exciting, worry-provoking first day. Start a new tradition of a fun dinner out where each child can share their favorite part of the first day of school and set one goal for the upcoming year—jot down their goals and post them at home. Getting through a tough morning may be easier if a child knows he can look forward to a fun treat at the day’s end.

Preview New Digs

It’s natural for kids to feel anxious when they don’t have a clue what the school day will hold. Visiting their new classroom in advance can help quell these worries before they get out of hand. Even better: contact the school to see if they can meet their new teacher before the first day.

During your school visit, give them a mini tour. Show them where they’ll be sitting for class and where they’ll eat lunch. Make sure they know where they’ll get on the bus or where you’ll pick them up each afternoon. Knowing what to expect when school begins will help anxious kids feel more at ease, says Edward Christophersen, Ph.D., clinical child psychologist at Children’s Mercy Hospitals in Missouri.

Facilitate Friendships

According to child and family psychologist Laura Grashow, Psy.D., having friends and being accepted by peers is a very important part of the school experience. “Depending upon the age of the child, parents can take an active role in facilitating friendships at school,” she says.

Help prepare kids for school-year socializing by arranging a couple of playdates with classmates prior to the start of class, and reminding them that they’ll be seeing their familiar school friends again soon.

Share Back-to-School Prep

Shouldering some responsibility for back-to-school preparations helps kids feel more empowered and excited about the big day. Arrange a fun back-to-school shopping trip, and allow them to pick out their own backpacks, shoes, and school supplies. Have kids help you with back-to-school chores; let them check items off their back-to-school supply list, sort school paperwork, and plan lunch menus.

Practice Makes Perfect

Save your breath; talking too much about the first day of school contributes to pressure and first-day jitters. It’s far more important to actually practice these strategies than it is to talk about them, says Christophersen. “Practicing new routines teaches them to children. Discussing them just makes children anxious,” he notes.

Don’t Overshare

If you’re nervous about the first day of school, kids will almost certainly be nervous too. Kids can easily pick up on parental anxiety, so if you feel anxious about your kids starting school, try to hide your negative feelings.

Instead of worrying about the beginning of school, concentrate on enjoying what’s left of summer with your kids. Take the focus off school starting by planning a late-summer camping adventure, beach trip, or barbeque.

Model Self-Discipline

Parents can help kids develop a positive attitude about attending school by modeling a productive, satisfied relationship with their own work and responsibilities, says Grashow. When kids see that a daily routine can be a source of fulfillment and fun, they’ll feel good about attending school. And you can feel good about starting the school year off right.

Malia Jacobson is a nationally published health journalist and mom of three. Her latest book is Sleep Tight, Every Night: Helping Toddlers and Preschoolers Sleep Well Without Tears, Tricks, or Tirades.

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