A brand new school year can be both an exciting and anxious time for students (and their parents). There are so many unique circumstances that can lead a student to feel uncertain about the upcoming transition. The good news is that the vast majority of students adjust very quickly.
According to Natalie Maryansky, LICSW, Epstein Hillel School’s Director of Student Services, there are some things you can do to prepare your children for the transition, help with first-day jitters, and aid in their ongoing success at school.
What can parents and students do at home to prepare for upcoming the school year to reduce feelings of anxiety?
Natalie says: Predictability is an important factor in reducing anxiety and fear of the unknown for a child. In the weeks leading up to the start of school, it is very helpful to practice routines related to school and the school day to help with the adjustment. Start your nighttime/bedtime routines earlier, and start waking up and getting ready earlier in the morning. Practice making and packing lunches together. Create a visual daily schedule to help your child prepare for and adjust to the multiple daily transitions that come with the school day.
As school approaches, talk to your child on a daily basis to remind them about the upcoming transition. You can help by providing general information about what they might expect on the first day and first month, but try not to overwhelm them with details unless they thrive off of detailed information. Avoid leading questions “are you nervous to start a new grade/school?” Instead, try “What are you hoping to learn/experience this year?” or “What questions do you have about starting a new school year?”
For the youngest students (e.g. Kindergarten), what are your tips for how to make the first day go smoothly?
Natalie says: The first day can bring forth a lot of emotions for kids and their caregivers– excitement, nervousness, sadness, and anxiety. Normalize these feelings, but try not dwell on them. Remind the child of their strengths and the coping strategies they already possess. If your soon-to-be Kindergartener has experience attending preschool, remind them that they have been to “school” before and that their previous teachers have all decided that they are ready for Kindergarten!
At drop off, try to avoid lingering around. Give them a hug, and let them go! I know how hard this is, particularly if your child struggles with separating from you. But school professionals are prepared and trained to help support a child if they are having a hard time transitioning into school.
What is your advice for older students who might be going through a transitional year, such as moving up to Middle School or a transfer student coming in to an entirely different school for the first time?
Natalie says: Talk openly about the transition. Here are some questions you can ask your child to create this dialogue with them:
- What are you looking forward to most?
- Do you feel like you know what to expect, or do you have any questions about what to expect? Here is what I think you might expect on the first day…
- When have you been new to something before, and what did you do to make it through that experience?
If a child continues to struggle adjusting after the first days of school, what are the best next steps?
Natalie says: If your child continues to struggle with adjusting to a new grade or school, inquire about the services your school offers to help ease this anxiety.
Here at at Epstein Hillel School, we partner with the child, caregiver, teacher, and school counselor to create a transition plan to ensure the child feels supported and successful. Access to a calm space within the classroom (“calm corner”) and/or brief check-ins with the school counselor to process their feelings and practice self-regulation strategies are some services that can be made available. If we feel the child would benefit from short-term counseling, weekly sessions with the school counselor are offered to help support the child as they continue to adjust.