Heading off to school can be exciting for kids: Old friends! New clothes! But the lead-up can also be filled with anxiety and stress. Changes in routine and fear of the unknown can wreak havoc on little nerves. Here’s how to tackle some typical back-to-school worries and put your child at ease:
Your First-Grader is Worried She Won’t Be As “Smart” As Her Classmates.
Most kids feel a few butterflies on the first day, but little kids are especially vulnerable because many are comparing themselves academically for the first time. “Entering first grade, kids become aware that classmates may have different skills, and some become anxiety-ridden and frightened that they can’t keep up,” says family therapist Carleton Kendrick, author of Take Out Your Nose Ring, Honey, We’re Going to Grandma’s. To help, have your child meet her teacher and tour the classroom before school starts. Ask the teacher to give your child a peek at what she’ll be learning at first. This will make the environment feel familiar on the first day and reassure her that it won’t be way over her head. Reviewing past successes (“Remember how proud you felt when you learned to tie shoes?”) can also help boost her confidence. Another option: Aromatherapy, says Rebecca Kajander, co-author of Be the Boss of Your Stress: Self-Care for Kids. Put a drop or two of essential oil like lavender on a tissue, and have your child carry it with her so she can sniff it when she’s feeling anxious.
Your Third-Grader is Freaking Out About Taking Standardized Tests for the First Time.
Like it or not, standardized testing is an integral part of today’s grade school experience. Getting enough rest will help your child feel sharp in the morning–boosting his confidence (and performance). But just try telling that to an anxious kid the night before an exam! Try teaching him mindfulness, which will help him learn to slow down and refocus. Have him carry a feather, ribbon, or other comfort object in his pocket, and touch it whenever he’s feeling overwhelmed. “It acts like a blanket does for younger kids, helping them transfer the negative feelings to something positive,” says Brent Rieger, M.D., pediatric instructor at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. Touching the object right before the test will also remind him to pause and try a relaxation technique, like counting to 10 or repeating a positive phrase (like: “I can do it!”) in his head.
Your Fifth-Grader Doesn’t Know Who To Sit With At Lunch.
The lunchroom–noisy and confusing, with kids jostling for seats–can be one of the most stressful spots in any school, says Kajander. Let your kid vent about her lunchtimes woes and listen to her complaints without making many comments, she suggests. “Then, help your child think of options to solve her problem, rather than just telling her what to do,” Kajander says. She’ll learn problem-solving skills and self-reliance by doing so. If she needs a gentle push: Suggest she ask one friend to eat lunch with her, rather than try to join a big group. Or, send in a lunch item to share; kids (just like adults!) bond over food. Chances are, your child’s lunchroom anxieties will be short-lived. But every kid is different, and if after a few weeks you notice signs of continued stress (her grades are slipping, she doesn’t want to play with friends, she’s complaining of tummy aches), it’s time to consult her teacher, guidance counselor, or pediatrician.