How do I help my young child with anxiety about starting school this fall?
Are you stressed about your little one starting school? While it can be a nerve-wracking experience for both parents and children, don’t worry! There are steps you can take to help your little one transition smoothly into school and start this new chapter in their life with confidence. Here are some tips and strategies to try.
Visit the school
One effective way to help your child become comfortable in their new surroundings is to visit the school before the academic year begins. Walk around the campus, showing them important places, such as the playground, bathrooms and classrooms. If visiting the school isn’t an option, you can create a mental picture by reading books about school together. Encourage children to share their thoughts based on what they see in the stories.
Talk and listen
Ask questions and help your child share their feelings about starting school. Sometimes children struggle to find the right words to describe their emotions, so listen to them carefully and help them name their feelings. This can build trust with your child, so they can continue to share their concerns as the school year rolls on. The Kid Builders Express Yourself activity for 4- and 5-year-olds on First 5 Orange County’s website can help guide you in helping your child share their feelings.
Share your feelings too
Let your child know that feeling nervous about starting school is normal. Share a personal story about a time you felt nervous or anxious. This can help your child understand that everyone experiences these emotions and it’s possible to overcome them. Teach them empowering sayings such as, “I’ve got this, I am brave,” and provide them with tools like a fidget bracelet or simple breathing exercises to manage anxiety.
Practice gradual separation
To help your child feel more comfortable being away from you, arrange playdates or short visits to loved ones’ homes. Start with short timeframes and slowly extend the length of the visit. Always say goodbye when leaving, because sneaking out can create stress for your child when they realize you’re gone. Celebrate each successful visit and your child’s growing independence.
Establish a routine and use visuals
A consistent morning routine can provide structure and stability for both you and your child. Plan and review the routine together the night before and follow it when you wake up. If your child is a visual learner, create a schedule or calendar using pictures representing each activity, such as a picture of books for reading time. The visual aid will help your child understand their schedule, allowing for flexibility when plans change.
Your child will benefit from being able to use the restroom independently, take their jacket off and put it back on and do other simple tasks on their own. Encourage their efforts, celebrate their successes and remember that mistakes are a natural part of the learning process. By allowing them to take ownership of potty training, dressing themselves and using a backpack, you are teaching them valuable skills that will serve them in school. For free and fun activities to help build your child’s skills, visit first5oc.org/kid-builders.
Stay calm and be positive
Children are sensitive to parents’ emotions, so it is crucial to remain calm and positive. Project a reassuring attitude. Your child will draw strength from your composure and optimism, building a sense of security and confidence in their abilities.
If you or your child are experiencing extreme anxiety, reach out to your child’s teacher for guidance and support. They have a wealth of knowledge and can provide personalized advice for your family’s specific needs. You can also speak to your child’s doctor, who can connect you with mental health specialists if necessary. Remember, you are not alone in facing these challenges.
Ultimately, your love and support are the key to helping your child thrive as they start their educational journey.
Cristina Blevins is the Early Learning Systems manager for First 5 Orange County and has over 20 years of experience in early childhood education.