Whether it’s starting at a new school or just a different grade, this can be stressful time for your child. My son is prone to feeling anxious about new surroundings and people so every year when he starts a new grade we have had to find ways to help ease the stress he feels.
When he started preschool we moved to another country, not only did he have to deal with a new school but he also had the challenge of a new language, culture, food…. It was a hard time for our little guy, thanks to God I can say that with age and maturity and learning some healthy coping strategies he is getting better at handling new situations. These tips I share with parents/guardians as a counselor and most of these tips we have used with my son.
Fear Busting Strategies:
- Get permission from the teacher to show your child their classroom, the bathrooms, their desk……
- Ask the teacher or principal if they could buddy up your child with a student for a day or two to help them with the transition if they are at a new school.
- Don’t focus on the fear- Talk about their new school or grade and some of their fears but don’t dwell on them. Fears get bigger the more we focus on them but it’s important to talk about them to prevent them from getting bigger in their little heads.
- Give them a schedule - Write down the schedule for them on a pad. The week of (we wait til the day before with our son), go over what their day will look like. If they don’t read yet use symbols: first you will have circle time, then snack, then recess…… Give them a crayon so they can check things off throughout their day.
- Set up play dates with classmates to give your child time outside of school to get to make new friends. We have a back to school party a week or two into his school year so he can connect with friends outside of school. It also gives us an opportunity to meet his classmates.
- As a parent don’t miss the Orientation meetings so you can be fully informed on what is going on in the new school or grade.
- Role Play - Role play different scenarios like recess time to help empower your child especially if they are shy.
- Reassure them and build their confidence in who they are by letting them know that you believe in them, or talking about those wonderful things about their personality. Replace their negative messages with positives ones.
- If it’s a new grade remind them that most likely everyone will be new to the grade. Focus on these types of facts.
- Write a note on their hand or on a pad. So, when they feel like they can’t say hi to the new girl sitting next to them or trying something new…–to look at their hand as an encouragement “YOU CAN DO IT.” Right before my son would leave the house, I would write on his arm or hand ”You can do it.” I later had a teacher tell me that she often caught him looking at his hand. We made this DIY heart stamp for him to use: Easing Jitters & Back to School Fears.
- Start an incentive chart and take it with you when you drop them off. You can include things they are struggling with like: walking into the classroom on their own, screaming when dropped off, kicking and biting, refusing to participate in class….. And let them know if they don’t “act out” they can get a sticker and when they get home they get a reward (make the reward small).
- Reassure them before you drop them off and don’t prolong the goodbye. If you want to stick around to make sure they are okay, don’t do it near the classroom or in the same hall.
This can be a hard time for both of you, as you walk this journey with your child. Remember you can be doing all the right things to help your child transition and your child may still struggle. It takes at least 6-8 weeks for a child to begin feeling comfortable in their new environment, so give it some time.
My son would regress in potty training and he would chew the collar and sleeves of his shirts for at least 2 weeks. Your child will try to find ways to cope with the stress, for our son those were his methods. It’s important to replace the old habit with a healthy one and not to just tell your child “don’t do that.” If it’s negative self talk replace it with positive phrases, bible verses or a song. If he becomes quiet and aloof as a coping strategy, replace this with sharing it in a journal (writing or drawing). We have tried to replace his not so healthy habits with: giving him a ball to squeeze, chewing gum, having him bite a small straw or popsicle stick.
Believe me I know it’s hard we have had our share of beginning of the school year drama. I have cried many a tear watching my son chew his shirts off and have anxiety rings around his mouth from licking his lips so much and causing them to bleed. In the midst of it all, I just pray for wisdom and discernment and we shower him with TONS of hugs and affirmation his “love language” until it passes through.
Below I have shared some printables that I have used every year with my sons teachers. I used these worksheets when I taught preschool and I always received tons of positive feedback from parents on how helpful this was for them to express some things about their child. After using the “Get to Know Me” worksheet at my son’s school, the early childhood director asked if they could use them. And as a parent, the “Get to Know Your Teacher” worksheet helps me when it comes time for Christmas or teacher appreciation to know some of those things before hand.
*Parents use the worksheets below with your child’s teachers. Teachers can use them to give to students for parents to fill out. (right click on image and copy and paste into your document to print or email)