The first day of school is an annual end-of-summer event which tends to evoke mixed emotions in both young and old. Even after you negotiate this major milestone, your son or daughter may experience difficulty settling in to a comfortable classroom routine. Here are some gentle ways that you, as a parent, can help.
Remember that the first day of the new school year is not necessarily a blueprint for what’s to come. The child who cried despairingly that first morning may adjust happily within a few days – or hours – while a youngster who thrived on the initial excitement might end up bored and frustrated by the classroom discipline. Even if your child isn’t screaming from the rooftops, “I hate school!” be alert for signs that not all is well. Common examples are excessive dawdling, tiredness, loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, difficulty with transitions (for instance, reluctance to leave home to take a walk with you, followed by reluctance to return), regression to behavior typical of a younger child, or personality change.
Take care of your children’s physical needs so they'll have what it takes to handle school’s intellectual and emotional challenges. Has your son or daughter had a medical check-up recently? Unnoticed, untreated conditions such as nearsightedness or anemia can wreak havoc with a youngster’s ability to focus.
Help kids get enough sleep by establishing a consistent, age-appropriate bedtime, preceded by low-key, “winding down” activities. Make sure their school backpacks, which should be orthopedic or wheeled, are the right size for books and other materials they need to carry back and forth to school, with easily accessible pockets and compartments. Choose healthy, high-protein breakfast and packed lunches that will prepare them for the demands of school. The dangers of too much sugar are well-known, but an overload of refined carbs such as white bread or pasta can have an equally damaging effect – sleepiness and impaired concentration.
Communication with Your Child
If you think there is cause for concern, talk with (not to!) your kid. Open the channels of communication with questions at a child’s level that call for more than yes/no answers. Instead of “Did you have a good day at school?” you could ask “What did you do in school today?” or “Who did you play with?” Avoid rushing in with your own take on the situation, whether negative comments (“Your teacher doesn’t know what he/she is doing”) or reassurances (“Just hang in; it’s not really so bad”). Instead, focus on problem solving. This is a step toward teaching your child the necessary skills to cope with life independently.
Your offspring may respond more readily to role play, with emphasis on the play. Use puppets, dolls, or even superhero action figures to act out challenging school scenarios, and invite your son or daughter to offer solutions.
Read books or tell stories about imaginary children coping with school. The Berenstain Bears books, the beloved best-selling series, include a host of plots that show kids facing common life challenges such as school anxiety.
Communication with Key Figures
Establish good communication with the teacher early on in the school year. Don’t wait for a crisis, especially if your child has issues like ADHD or incontinence. Make it clear that you are interested in cooperation.
Connect with other parents as well, to get their feedback on how things are going and to set up play dates for small children. A son or daughter who is a little older can be encouraged to bring classmates home (with parental permission, of course). Make your house and yard a welcoming place. Hang a couple of swings so they can play outside in the fall. If you live in a northern state like Minnesota, as the weather gets nippy, spread out blankets on your Minneapolis tile floor and let the kids create Lego castles or elegant tea parties. Making friends in their grade will foster more positive feelings toward school.
If, despite your best efforts, your child continues to be extremely unhappy in the classroom, you may want to seek counseling.
Laura Firszt writes for networx.com.