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Challenge: It's Back to School: Share Your Advice

How to Emotionally Prepare Your Kid for School

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Ahh, school time. So many emotions from kids and parents. We all know to move up bedtime and adjust schedules before school starts, but if you have a shy or anxious little one, some of these ideas may help emotionally prepare your kid for school.

In Kansas, most schools start this week, I know other schools around the country have already begun, or they may start a little later, but these tips don’t have to only apply to the first day of school. They can help when your kid has a bad day and is apprehensive about going back, or something happens at school that upset them

As you may know, I spent ten years as a speech-language pathologist in an elementary school, and I’ve used some of these ideas with clients who were nervous to talk or work with me. They helped calm them down, relax and open up a bit.

Don’t feel the need to do them all! Just pick a few that you think would help your kid the most:

As kids get older, it’s important to teach them self-advocacy skills by (respectfully) advocating for their needs. Ask your kid what helps him learn or what tools he needs to learn best. For example, does he need to stand when writing? Take occasional breaks to recharge? Sit close to the board? Draft up a list with your kid and give it to his teacher. Sometimes, what he may want isn’t possible (ex: a break every five minutes), but most teachers are willing to find common ground and help the child as much as possible.

Maybe your kid gets to plan lunch for Fridays. Or, he can decorate a folder/backpack to his liking. If possible, maybe your child can pick out the order of his morning routine? Giving your child some ownership lets him feel a little more in control of the situation, and be excited about school. All within reason and what works best for your family!

“You is smart. You is kind. You is important.” The Help, anyone? I love that line, and it’s a great line to keep in mind when discussing how a kind classroom environment can help kids learn better and ease tensions. So, how can your kid contribute? Maybe talk about how he could find a student who looks lonely and ask him to play. Or, if your kid is a bit shy, maybe he could help a friend pick up his mess or sit next to someone new at school. Always smile and say hi. Encourage to give a compliment, “Hey, Ryan, I like your Superman backpack!”

If your child is nervous about school or making friends, think about creating a space for her worries to “disappear.” I’ve used a homemade “worry bucket” before with clients, and it is helpful for some. Leave out slips of paper for you or your child to write down a worry. Talk about it and come up with ideas to help. After you establish a plan, take the worry slip and make it disappear in the bucket. Once the worry is in the bucket, it’s time to move on to something else and leave the worry behind.

If social skills or self-regulation are a challenge for your kid, what strategies can you teach and practice (multiple times) to help him? For example, does he often blurt out answers? Then roleplay. Pretend to be the teacher and ask the “class” questions. Then have him practice raising his hand (quietly) and wait to be called on before answering.

What do you expect from your child this school year? It’s okay to be honest (gently) about areas he can work on related to school/social skills. Pick one or two areas to target together, so he doesn’t feel overwhelmed or embarrassed. Share some of the things as a parent you are working on, too. Are you both working on listening better? Talk about it, and let him know parents aren’t perfect either. This will help emotionally prepare your kid for school.

Ask your child how his teacher might be feeling about the start of the school year. What can he do to help his teacher in the classroom? You can also ask about how a new kid might be feeling. What can he do to make someone new at school feel welcome? Let him know other people may be nervous, too, and it’s not just him. Or, give an example of yourself going to school for the first time or starting a new job, and what you did to feel better.

Usually, there is a “meet the teacher” night. If you have a feeling your child is nervous, be prepared to take some pictures when you visit the school. Or, if the night has already passed, take pictures another time, including one of your child and his teacher, the classroom, his desk/cubby, the office, nurse’s station, cafeteria, gym, and other frequently visited places around the school. Then you can take those photos and make them into a short “Back to School Book.” If that seems like too much work, make a video slideshow on your phone, and you and your child can watch the video and chat about school together.

You know I love books to teach just about anything.

Here are some essential back to school reads:

  • The Kissing Hand
  • The Pout-Pout Fish Goes to School
  • The Night Before Kindergarten
  • The Night Before Preschool
  • On the First Day of Kindergarten
  • How to get your Teacher Ready
  • Second Grade, Here I come
  • The Night Before First Grade
  • This School Year will be the Best

Sit down and ask your child what he’s most excited about the school year (beyond recess and lunch, because duh. Ha!) Discuss what strengths he thinks he brings to the classroom–and then talk about what strengths you think he brings. What is an area or two he could work on during the school year? Maybe pick an academic goal and a social goal (following directions the first time, keep learning space organized) and talk about how he can achieve them throughout the school year.

If you are able, have your child think of an additional item she could give to her teacher/classroom (beyond just the school supply list. Some ideas available here) that might be helpful. Like a plant or a picture. Then, she can give it to the teacher at “meet the teacher night” or sometime during the first few weeks of school. This gesture can help her feel like a part of the classroom.

School is an emotional time for kids, some love it, and some have a hard time adjusting. Let me know if you try any of these activities to help emotionally prepare your kid for school.

What other suggestions do you have?

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