As kids and parents anticipate the start of a new school year, it is common to feel both excitement and anxiety. While it's easy to focus on the material aspects of getting ready for school – new clothes and school supplies – the emotional issues need attention too. Whether a child is starting preschool, middle school, or even college, parents play a key role in helping their child prepare to get the year off to a good start.
All smiles on the first day.
Common Concerns At Different Ages
Pre-school and kindergarten:
- Separation anxiety
- Worries about routines (foods, going to the bathroom, needing help)
- Concerns about what the teacher(s) and other kids will be like
- Anxiety about academic performance
- Worries about peer relations (rejection, teasing, bullying)
- Emerging concerns about race relations and political divisiveness, which continue through later stages
- Anxiety about managing multiple classes (finding way around building, organizing work demands
- Worries about peer relations (even more intense than in elementary school)
- Same as middle school, but with increasing pressure to succeed
- Worries about identity, life plans, choosing higher education
- Emerging concerns about dating, sexuality, romantic relationships
In light of school shootings in recent years, fear of violence and general concerns about safety affect children of all ages.
Ways Parents Can Help
- Listen to your child & take feelings seriously. Ask what are you looking forward to? What are you worried about? Share stories from your own childhood to normalize the concerns, also acknowledging that the world is different now.
- Visit the building during teacher prep week. Show your child around, then ask them to show you around. Make sure they know how to find the bathroom, their classroom(s), and the office. See if your child can meet their teacher.
- Connect with other kids who will be in the same class. Arrange play dates for younger kids; consider throwing a back-to-school party for older kids; build on connections the child already has through sports, faith community, and other activities.
- Role-play how to deal with tough situations. Brainstorm how to respond to teasing – include both serious and silly ideas, making it fun; coach the child on how to deal with bullying and assure the child you will contact teachers and the principal immediately if you hear of bullying at the school. Adults have the responsibility to keep children safe.
- Connect with other parents and teachers to promote a school culture of acceptance and respect. Host a morning tea with the parents in your child’s grade. Join the parent-teacher organization. Be proactive if you notice children or families who are being excluded or not respected.