Here are some suggestions to make starting school, or transitioning, less stressful for children and parents.
Pre K, Kindergarten, 1st grade
• Allow children to tour the school and classroom before school starts. While touring, point out fun items that the student will be able to utilize.
• Allow the student to mingle with their peers so they recognize faces on the first day.
• Develop a routine with the student. The night before, as a team, pack everything in their backpack, get together lunch/snack items, and choose an outfit to wear.
• If the student is feeling uneasy, tell him/her it’s normal to be nervous and the other kids are feeling the same way. You can share a story about how nervous you were on your first day of kindergarten.
• Point out the positive aspects of starting school, like how it will be fun making new friends and learning new things.
Transitioning to different grades
• Talk about transitioning into a new grade in a positive way. A parent’s enthusiasm and support can help a child feel positive about school life.
• Help your student stay organized (e.g. utilize planner, use binders/folders, prepare for the day/week ahead of time).
• Encourage your student to get involved in school activities.
• Talk about social skills such as traits that make a good friend, and discuss how words and actions can affect other people.
• Encourage/help your student to be his or her own advocate. Encourage your child to discuss problems and solutions with teachers/support staff on their own, but be ready to help as needed.
Practical methods for parents
• Don’t allow your student to avoid things because it makes him/her anxious. Allowing the student to avoid the situation only helps in the short term and reinforces the anxiety over the long run.
• Express positive but realistic expectations. For example, a parent can’t promise the student that he/she is never going to fail a test, but a parent can express confidence that the student is going to be O.K. and they will be able to manage it. When an individual faces one’s fears, the intensity of the anxiety will decrease over time.
• Try to model healthy ways of handling anxiety (e.g., belly breathing, positive visualizations, squeeze a stress ball, etc.).
• Explain to the student that there are adults in the building who will help him/her navigate worries and provide support.
Ms. Spears is the Shelter Island School psychologist.