New beginnings are exciting but often nerve-wracking so don’t be surprised if your child seems a little jittery during the first few weeks of school. You might expect it, especially if it’s their first foray into the academic world, but sometimes you’ll find returning students are just as apprehensive. Not to worry, there are simple steps you can take to assure that both first-timers and veterans alike slide smoothly into class.
Get back to basics. While you wonder if your child will succeed in the coming year, your child may have more elementary things on their mind. “It’s really the same set of basic fears that all of us encounter when we go someplace new or make a transition,” says Mary Ann Rafoth, Ph.D. Things like worrying about what door to go in or where the bathroom is, progressing to wondering who they will eat lunch with or whether they’ll like their new teacher. By addressing these simple issues, you can go a long way toward relieving your child’s uneasiness.
The ‘big’ building. Navigating a new and unfamiliar place can prove daunting to anyone. Don’t let a sprawling campus prompt your child into thinking they’ll get lost. A tour may have been provided on orientation day but if your child is still feeling a little shaky about specific routes, maybe you could meet up with them before or after school and let them show you around. Have them point out the bathrooms and the water fountains. And don’t forget fun areas, like the playground or gym, the library and any special art, music or science rooms. This role reversal should boost your child’s confidence and make them feel secure in their knowledge of the layout.
The bathroom. Kindergartners and First-graders, in particular, are apt to be a little nervous about bathroom protocol. Its location may be firmly established in their minds but maybe it’s some other little detail that’s hanging them up. Does yours know how to operate the lock on the stall or pull paper towels out of the dispenser? Is your child taking advantage of regularly scheduled visits? Have they learned their classroom’s silent hand signal when nature simply can’t wait? Ask your child these questions and prompt them in turn to ask their teacher for help should there be any gray areas. And to make the whole process easier, Calgary mom and former First Grade teacher Christine Sazie advises dressing your child in easy off elastic-waist pants - no belts, please! She also recommends sending an extra set of clothes to school in the event of a potty mishap or vomiting.
The locker room. It could be a cubby or simply a hook or maybe even a full-blown locker but the proverbial ‘place to hang one’s hat’ definitely makes a child feel part of the club... er, school. In the case of older kids wrestling with a combination locker for the very first time, definitely have them practice working the sequence of numbers until they can open and close the latch without any problem, advises Dr. Rafoth. “It’s pretty stressful for a kid to hear the class bell ring and still be fumbling with his lock!” As for younger kids, make sure they recognize their assigned storage space. The savvy teacher will have gotten busy with the label-maker and you should as well. “It really helps if parents label their children’s outerwear - especially backpacks - because invariably two kids have the same one,” says Sazie.
The big yellow bus. Travel time can be the most stressful of all school experiences, especially to the uninitiated. Have an older sibling or responsible neighborhood kid keep an eye on the new bus rider in your family and escort them to class until they know the way themselves. As for the return trip, make sure they seek out assigned yard duty personnel if they have any doubts about which bus to board. If they’re not wearing a nametag already, make sure they get one with their bus route clearly marked to avoid mix-ups. Even so, it’s a good idea to create a plan of action in the event they do get lost, Dr. Rafoth cautions. “Teach him his room number and teacher’s name, the name of his bus stop and have him practice how to ask a grown-up for directions.”
The new teacher. There’s a new role model stepping into your child’s life and as with everything, there’s fear of the unknown. When presented with the classroom rules, some children worry they’ll trip up and get into trouble. Remind your student that many of their new teacher’s rules - no interrupting, no back talk, no hitting, no yelling - are the same ones they already follow at home. Also, point out that most teachers chose their profession because they genuinely like kids! Consider taking a photo of your child with their new teacher. Post it on the fridge at home to foster a sense of familiarity.
Sidle into a discussion about school during downtime with your child. Get a feel for anything that’s troubling them. You’ll find it’s easy to put their mind at rest about often innocuous things with a just little preparation and encouragement.
June is a mother and freelance writer of two school-age children. For more information, visit junecorrigan.com.
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