Tricks for Easing New-School Jitters

I always become reflective when school starts back because I remember how shy and anxious and shy I felt when I was younger and a new school year was about to begin. I’d look forward to more advanced class work–and to wearing the new outfits my parents bought for me. But, I’d also spend a great deal of time worrying I’d do or say something to get the attention of the two girls that bullied me for a few years.

However, since the house my parents bought right before I started high school was in a different school district, I started high school feeling like the proverbial new kid on the block. But, you know what? It felt okay to be that new kid because so many of us were new to each other…and those two unhappy bullies weren’t going to be joining me at the new school.

Unfortunately, some kids don’t have such an easy time when they start at a new school. Uncertainties or unanswered questions about any new school–whether it be a preschool for your youngest child or high school for your oldest–can often cause a child to become apprehensive or pessimistic about going to school at all.

Did your child start the school year at a new school? If so, all sorts of questions could be swirling around in their cute little heads, such as “Will I like the teachers?” or “Will the other kids like me?” for starters. The good news is that you can help them tremendously by just doing a few things. First of all, parents should acknowledge that it’s normal for their child to experience a little anxiety, said Rev. Joanne Jennings, a marriage and family therapist based in Durham, North Carolina. “Families need to recognize that anything new can create some kind of anxiety. Since families normally operate in a state of balance, anything new can disrupt that system,” Jennings said.

Nevertheless, Jennings believes that seeing themselves as a partner with their child’s teacher or teachers. “Teachers almost function as a family member,” Jennings said. And, if a younger child is missing a former teacher, Jennings suggests you do something that allows you and your child to “celebrate” the contributions of–or honor the memory of–the other teacher. “Part of beginning a new relationship means you may have to grieve the old. Look at pictures from last year and tell them they’ll be able to add new ones to their (album) this year,” she said. As parents, Jennings said, we need to teach our kids we “don’t have to deny the past to embrace the future.”

One thing you can do to help them embrace the future is help them create a “Back to School” memory book or vision board. The memory book, which would be great for younger students, could contain photos of your kids in new clothes on the first day of school, as well as pictures of them standing next to their new teachers or even playing with new classmates on the playground after school during the first month of school. Older kids might want to create a vision board featuring photos or drawings that highlight new people they’ve met, the different activities they want to consider getting involved in this year, or reminders about academic goals they set for themselves this year. If your kids don’t ever want to stand still long enough for you to take a photo of them, that’s okay. Perhaps they’d rather jot their feelings down in a journal like the ones shown above.

If the process of adjusting to a new school seems to be taking longer than you or your child hoped or expected, you may want to seek counsel on how to deal with the new normal from a school counselor or your family’s pediatrician. But, chances are, your child will adjust just fine at their new school and have an exciting and fun school year.

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