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First Day Jitters – How to help your kids face down anxiety.

By Charity Hagains MA LPC-S
While many kids run towards their new classrooms full of excited anticipation, there are equally as many children who feel anything from nervous to paralyzing fear at the notion of new friends and a new teacher.  While it’s a normal part of the shared human experience to feel nervous at the idea of change, it doesn’t have to be traumatizing.  Here are a few tips for preparing your more skittish kiddos for the first day of school.

  • Be Honest
    • Change is scary.  While many parents want so badly for their child to be one of the excited care-free kiddos, most likely they aren’t.  I hear parents telling their children, “there’s nothing to be afraid of,”  but that is simply not true.  If your child is afraid, telling them not to be makes them feel even worse.  Plus, you are running the risk that they will begin to act unafraid yet still feel terrified.  Help them by being honest with them.
  • Acknowledge what they feel.  “You look a little scared,” goes a lot further than denying that they are scared. “A new teacher can be scary.  I get nervous when I start a new job or get a new boss.  I don’t always know what to expect.”  Validate that being scared is a normal part of being a person, and that you have felt that way yourself, yet you didn’t let it hold you back.  “I was scared on my first day of school too.  I took a deep breath and tried to remember that everyone else was scared too, and it wasn’t just me.  It made it easier to talk to people that way.”
  • Share Your Coping Skills
    • We all have times when we are nervous about a situation and yet we all manage to make it through those emotions and keep living our lives.  Think about how you do that.  How do you make it through?  Share that with your kiddo.  While I have written extensively about developing healthy coping skills and could list out what those are, it is better for you to determine what skills you put into practice.  You are their teacher for this lesson.  If you have a skill that really helps you in a difficult moment, teach that to your child.  Share with them how it helps.  Do this often.  Anytime you are struggling with a situation, let your child see how you deal with it successfully.  Children need to learn that we all feel uncomfortable at times, and that is okay because we have ways to manage that.  This will help them them learn not to run from problems, but to face them and grow stronger.
  • Get Prepared
    • One great way to help ease the anxious mind is to feel prepared for a situation.  This can include, taking a tour of a new school or classroom before all the other children arrive, meeting the teacher before open house night, looking at photos from last year (teachers always have photos of their classes fun activities laying around.  Just ask if you and your child can see them).  You can even ask the teacher to walk you through a normal classroom day (we come in, you sit here, we have calendar time then math etc…).
  • Start Early
    • This goes along with being prepared.  Develop your school routine early (say a week or two before school starts).  Wake up as if your child is going to school that day, make breakfast, get lunch ready, take a shower and dress…all in time to get to school.  Likewise, bedtime becomes important again during these weeks.  While summer is often a time to let the rules bend a little and kiddos may have been staying up later, now is the time to refocus and get back to life as usual.
    • This helps children be able to fully adjust to the new schedule weeks before they are expected to adjust to a new classroom.
Having a nervous kiddo is difficult as a parent.  We want so badly for our children not to experience anything uncomfortable, and it hurts us when they do.  Try to remember they aren’t just your children, but a person as well.  People are supposed to struggle in order to grow, and learning how to do that now will help them throughout their entire lives.  Don’t read too much into an anxious kiddo.  I know we are tempted to predict the future for our children, but doing so can cause us more pain than necessary.  If your child is socially anxious about his new 1st grade classroom, it does not (I repeat it does not) mean that he will grow into a timid and scared adult.  Don’t let yourself give more meaning to these situations than they deserve.  In the end, doing so will only lead to a feeling of desperation and fear, thereby causing your child to believe that their is reason to panic.  The calmer you are about your child being anxious, the more helpful you can be for him or her.  In the end, that’s what we all want as parents, to be the solid helpful guide for our children throughout their lives.
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