Embarking on a new experience is as stressful and exciting for children as it is for adults. While the first day of school often brings mixed feelings for children and parents, advanced planning and preparation can help alleviate children’s anxiety before they board the school bus, putting them in the best frame of mind to learn.
Most school-related anxiety stems from the unknown, said Jan Carroll, a Colorado State University Cooperative Extension youth development specialist.
"Some of the stress that young students face is related to their age or grade level," Carroll said. "But it mostly boils down to children not knowing how well they’ll adjust to a new situation. Many students worry about relationships with other students, fitting in, feeling overwhelmed, performance in class and new settings. They just aren’t sure what to expect."
Carroll, who specializes in school enrichment and after school programs, has some tips for parents of young students.
- Begin building a child’s self-esteem before he or she begins kindergarten. It makes children feel good and in control of their own situation. Helping preschool-aged children learn to tie, zip and button <<their clothes>> with no help from others is a good place to start. They can volunteer to help classmates learn the same and make new friends. It also gives teachers another opportunity to praise the child.
- Make sure the student gets restful sleep and nutritious breakfasts. This is essential for their health and productivity in school.
- Be patient with a child’s anxiety. As children move from one grade to another or from one school to another, they experience many changes: new schedules, teachers, classmates, friends and expectations. Set aside time to talk about school with the child and discuss these changes.
- Begin acclimating children to keeping a schedule and obeying rules by setting them at home. Establish rules about bedtimes, chores, television and computer time, video games and telephone use.
- Teach your children to be responsible for their personal belongings. This encourages them to keep track of their possessions so costly replacements aren’t needed throughout the school year.
- Set aside a time and place for children to do homework once teachers begin assigning it.
- Make sure your child’s immunizations are up to date to prevent missing school.
For more information about helping children to adjust to a new school year, visit www.ext.colostate.edu, click on "catalog," then "Fact Sheets" and go to Fact Sheet no. 10.246.