Help Your Kids Cope with Anxieties About School

As the summer days dwindle, children can become anxious over starting school or returning to the classroom. Kindergartners, and even some first graders, may still be coping with latent separation anxieties from their parents. Going to school for the first time can be a scary experience, especially if a child is shy and introverted. The unfamiliar classmates, rules, and noisy atmosphere of a bustling school environment can overwhelm timid children and make them experience real symptoms of anxiety.

Eradicating Fear of the Unknown

Moms and dads can head some of these feelings off at the pass by familiarizing their kids with the school, the teacher and the principal. Do a walk-through with your children to the different areas of the school where they will be spending their days — the classroom, cafeteria, library, playground and gym — so these areas aren’t completely unfamiliar when school starts. Talk to them about the sounds that they will hear, like bells and announcements over the PA system.

Children who are prone to anxiety do best when they are prepared for unexpected occurrences like fire drills or missing the bus. Discuss with your children what to do when something happens at school where they need assistance, e.g., they have an accident, become ill or get hurt. Some children may not want to speak up to the teacher, so role-play a few scenarios with your child alternating in the role of the teacher and the student. Let them have fun with it, coming up with ways they can seek the help they need.

Dealing with the Problem of Bullies

It may be difficult for some parents to understand how other children can be cruel to their kids, but despite heavy media focus on the issue of bullying, some schools are still rife with the problem. Kids don’t always tell their parents when they’ve been victimized by bullies on the bus, playground, or in the classroom; they may feel ashamed to be the butt of the bullies’ cruelty and try to hide it from mom, dad, and the teachers.

However, internalizing bullying leaves scars on a child’s psyche that may never fully heal. Parents should be alert for indications that their kids are being targeted by bullies. These include:

  • Formerly outgoing children becoming sullen or withdrawn
  • A lack of friends from class, with no overtures or invitations extended
  • Suspicious bruises or marks that might be from a bully’s pinches or punches
  • Vague and mysterious ailments that only seem to affect kids during school hours
  • Missing or damaged property
  • Nightmares and sleeping difficulties
  • Plummeting grades

If bullying was a problem last year, it’s important to get a handle on it from Day 1 of this school year. Parents should set up a meeting with the principal before school starts to discuss their concerns and make it clear that there will be no tolerance for bullying behaviors this year. Aim for assertive rather than aggressive in your demeanor. Some school administrators don’t like to admit that bullying is a problem in their hallowed halls, so it’s vital to stress that this is an ongoing problem that cannot continue.

Cliqued Up or Cliqued Out?

Kids gravitate toward social groups in school, but some are hangers-on and loners. Whether your child is a social butterfly or a shrinking violet, there is no right or wrong personality type; it’s just part of their individuality. Some children don’t even seem to notice that they aren’t in with the “cool crowd,” while others are devastated to be excluded from the group.

If your child is one of the latter, help them explore these feelings. Why is hanging out with a certain crowd, or sitting at a certain lunch table, important to them? What does it represent? Ask them what qualities they have to offer — are they especially artistic or musical, can they kick a goal from midfield or write computer codes or a short story? Maybe they can make people laugh or have a kind and welcoming nature that draws people to them. Learning to appreciate the unique qualities and talents they possess can help them develop the self-confidence to banish back-to-school anxiety and start the year off right.

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