With September just around the corner, children are likely starting to develop back-to-school jitters, especially students who are starting at a new school this fall. Change and transition are tough on many children. Fear of the unknown and facing new situations are stressful. Will my teacher like me? Will I be bullied? Can I find my classroom?
If you have a child who is getting antsy or is panicked about the new school they'll be attending, parenting expert and author Alyson Schafer offers tips to help make their new start as bearable as possible:
Stay positive and normalize their concerns
If you're worried or concerned about your child adjusting to a new school, your son or daughter will pick up on your hesitations, which might fuel their own fears. Instead, adopt a positive attitude about the school and your child's ability to fit in. Of course, still be empathetic about their fears and hear them out. Don't dismiss their emotions; instead, normalize their experience. This means letting your child know the feelings and fears they're experiencing are common.
It's natural someone would have worries and fears about starting a new school. If you have personal stories about how you handled moving to a new school when you were a kid, share those with your child.
Discuss specific fears and then problem solve
Ask your child about the specifics about their fears. For example, some children may be afraid of getting lost in the new school and not being able to find their classroom. Others could be afraid of using the public washroom. Some want to fit in right away.
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If kids talk about their fears in detail, parents can work through strategies that might help dissuade these fears. Is there a map of the school or a tour you can take in advance? Do they know anyone at the new school who can walk with them between classes? Which washrooms offer the most privacy at the best time of day? Would shopping for a popular backpack ease their mind about fitting in?
Never belittle your child's worries — it's a big deal for them. Fear of looking silly or making a mistake might not bother you, but it can be debilitating to a kid. Always show compassion as you discuss their concerns. Let them know you believe in them to handle anything that comes up, and that you're always available for help and support.
Focus on past successes and the upside
Help your child see the wonderful opportunities the new school has to offer. They may make a new best friend, or the school's sports program may be great. Explain that focusing on the positives will create positive emotions, while focusing on the negatives will stir up negative emotions. They can choose where to put their attention.
Also, remind them of past successes when they had to start something new. Perhaps they were afraid of going to camp or learning how to ride a bike, but in the end it all worked out great! The moral of the story: they have what it that it takes to handle these situations and it never turns out as badly as they expect.
Prepare and familiarize
It's natural to want to feel in control in a new or unknown situation. By planning and rehearsing, you can help reduce the amount of the unexpected and the uncontrollable situations. Think of everything you can do in advance of the first day of school to help your child feel in control of their experience.
Involve them in the decision-making and preparations. For example, take them shopping for school supplies, have them pick out their clothes for the first day, and write a lunch plan for the first week. Drive or walk to the school and hang out in the school yard. Arrange a meeting if you can meet the teacher in advance of the first day. Set up a morning routine together and practice the routine for a week before school. Every little bit of agency adds up and helps squash fear.
Talk to the school
You're not the only one working to make a successful transition for your child into their new school. Staff at the school also want new students to be welcomed and integrated into the community. If you have concerns about your child's anxiety surrounding the new school transition, let the teacher or principal know about your concerns. Staff can do their part and connect with your child, while helping them acclimatize to the new school environment. They are masters in their professions, so don't forget to use their talents!
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