As a mom of three children, ages 25, 20 and 17, our family has had many first days of school ranging from preschool to college. No matter how old my kids are, every year they each deal with back-to-school anxiety. I remember one first-day several years ago when my youngest told me that he felt like he had frogs jumping in his tummy. It’s an exciting and stressful time for children, full of self-discovery and new experiences. Here are some tips our family uses to deal with first-day jitters:
Visit the building before school starts. Take a tour and meet the principal and teacher, if possible. Often times knowing where and what to expect reduces anxiety.
Talk with children about personal first-day experiences. Share positive and appropriate stories about starting at a new school or different workplace. Letting kids know that they are not the only ones who have felt that first-day nervousness helps normalize their feelings.
Go shopping for clothes and supplies together. Empower your children to be part of the preparation process. Let them choose their favorite apparel, shoes, or notebooks. For older kids, give them a budget and talk through their choices with them.
Encourage your children to be open, respectful, and kind. Talk with your children about the importance of being respectful to all of the adults they encounter at school, including office staff, bus drivers, janitorial staff, teachers, administrators, and other parents. Assure them of the valuable role that each person plays in the school community.
Also, share the advice that my mother told me and I have told my children, “To have a friend, you have to be a friend.” Talk with your kids about what it takes to be a friend – getting to know someone’s name, smiling and looking people in the eye when they speak, inviting someone to sit at lunch with them or play at recess with them.
Be there for them. If your schedule allows, take them to the school or the bus stop on the first day and meet them there afterwards. Don’t press with too many questions. Let them share when they are ready.
Leaving the familiarity of home and becoming acclimated with the larger world is a normal and necessary part of growing up. I’ve realized that as a mom, I am an anchor for my kids. Even though I may be dealing with my own stress about the start of the school year, my job is to remain bigger, kinder, stronger and wiser, assuring my kids that I am a safe place for them to process their new experiences. And even though the first-day brings anxiety, having the opportunity and privilege to obtain an education is something to CELEBRATE!
About the author
Tamara Fyke is an educator and social entrepreneur with a passion for kids, families, and urban communities. She is the creator and author of Love In A Big World, which provides mental health, SEL, and wellness curriculum and content. During quarantine, Tamara created MusiCity Kids, an online educational show for kids ages 6-12 that addresses health, movement, character development, STEAM, and more.