Back to School: Reducing Anxiety for a Smooth Transition

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By UB therapist Falyn Taylor, MA, PLPC

“This is so exciting! …This is so horrible!” The mixture of emotions be it joy, grief, excitement, and anxiety of sending our children off to school for the first time. The moments that bring us to tears and cheers while sitting outside of your child’s school, glaring into the window. Walking into the building that can remind us of our own childhood with our senses running full speed down memory lane. As the senses rush with overload of the smell of colored wax, pencil shavings, washable makers, books, boards, collared shirts, and school lunchroom (yes we all know that smell).

Back to school shopping is America’s united time of running to chain stores during large sales to grab all the same items as the next parent. Sheets of paper in hand of classroom supplies, some traditional, others that we question why the school doesn’t pay for; yet it’s so exciting! Although, there is a dim side for some families during this time aside from glitter book bags and superhero lunch boxes. A side that can take place before school begins, or peer its head right at drop-off. Separation anxiety for both parents and children cannot be always avoided or understood, but it happens. Here are some ways to tame the beast in hopes of a smooth first week of school.

Follow these steps to attempt to reduce anxiety for both parent and child during this exciting transition.

  1. Before the first weeks of school approach get familiar with the routine for the upcoming school year. Changes in schedule and fear of the unknown are breeding grounds for anxiety.
  2. Let the countdown begin! Create a chart in home that you child can physically “X” off the days leading up to day 1. This builds positive anticipation, allowing your child some control and responsibility. They may feel like they are losing control of life as they know it, so asserting some power in the process is golden!
  3. Begin going to bed at the time suitable for when school is in session. Our bodies are important to train to trainsitions as well. Begin practicing your bedtime routine early, whether that is making dinner later or brushing teeth earlier. A goodnight’s rest is essential!
  4. Wake up at your new school time, NO SNOOZE! Summer is off the clock and you are on!
  5. Most schools host open houses to get to know teachers and the school building. Get familiar with the teacher and the classroom. For the new student this will gain some expectation of what is to come. Parents feel free to use this time to get the contact information for your child’s teacher for your own sanity. Many teachers will email parents during the school day with updates during the first week of school, if not you could send an email their way!
  6. Playtime! Take some time to role play with your child of how the first day of school will be. Kids learn through play, so make this exciting and fun and they’ll retain more info than you may think!
  7. Create home away from home. Identify a small object to take to school that can remind your new student of home. This can be something as simple as a special ribbon tied to their book bag, or a comfort item that they already have identified. Teachers will understand and accommodate transitional items from home. Having something familiar can provide comfort consciously and subconsciously. The smell of home or parents stimulates a natural calming remedy for some children through the senses, acquiring them a coping skill for times when they feel homesick.
  8. Bedtime stories with a theme! Choose to read books together at bedtime surrounding first days of school. Some great titles are: If You Take a Mouse to School, by Laura Numeroff; It’s Time for Preschool, by Esme Raji Codell; Go to School, Charlie Brown; and Rain School by James Rumford.
  9. Lastly, if your child is not making a big deal about starting school then let the good vibes ride! Placing our own worries onto our children can cause undue stress. If you don’t have found memories of school keep that in mind when having conversations about the topic with your children. Self-care is important so be aware of your own separation woes and process them with other parents!
  10. Breathe! This is only the beginning and pat yourself on the back; baby is off to conquer the world…or at least the first day!