7 Ways to help ease your kid’s back-to-school anxiety

In a few weeks, my 6-year-old son, W, will embark on the grand adventure known as The First Grade.

This is incredibly exciting for me because I have very fond memories of my own first grade year, and I’d love for W to experience the kind of magic and wonder that year held for me. My teacher, Mrs. Jones, was almost storybook in her whimsy. She had a delightful English accent, drove a turquoise Yugo, and her husband was a bee-keeper. I’ve been telling W about how much I loved first grade for weeks in the hopes that he will catch my enthusiasm.

He sort of has. But he’s also got anxiety.

Last year W attended a small charter school. Kindergarten was a lot of fun for him, but the school was very nontraditional. All of the kids in the school knew each other and he did well within their curriculum. I decided to keep W at the charter school, even when we moved in the middle of the school year.

And here we are, ready for first grade. There are two elementary schools near our new home, and we won’t know which school W will attend until the end of the month. They are both great, but they are both very different from what W is used to. It’s the size of the building, the number of students, the traffic around the schools, the cafeterias, the gyms.

I can’t instantly make his anxiety disappear, but I’ve been working on ways to get him ready for first grade. Nothing huge, nothing drastic, mostly foundation level work on which he can build.

1. Encouraging him to make new friends at camp

One way I’ve helped him transition to our neighborhood, and possibly these new schools, was to enroll him in a local summer day camp. All summer he’s been going to camp with kids he doesn’t know. Most of the kids seem to have grown up together and it has been a challenge for him to connect and make buddies, but he’s doing it!

I’m hopeful he will recognize “making new friends” as a skill and find comfort in that during the first week of school. It would be a nice bonus if any of his summer camp buds are in the same class.

2. Practicing school work

We’ve all heard of the “summer slump” —  our kids seem to forget everything they learned the previous year the moment summer hits. W mentioned one of the things he’s worried about was being at a “different level” from the other kids in class at his new school.

I told him we didn’t need to concern ourselves about anyone else’s levels, but if he wanted to practice the skills he learned in kindergarten, we would do that. We’ve been reading every day, doing silly math problems, and working on writing. I’m not pushing him at this point, because goodness, he’s six. But since this was a concern of his, I listened.

3. Watching school-themed movies

If there’s a kid movie featuring a school, we’ve seen it.

Shark Boy and Lava Girl — check!

Sky High — check!

Harry Potter — check!

Descendants — check!

There are so many different kinds of schools out there in movie land. It’s nice to be able to watch them with W and point things out. Simple things like, “Some schools have lockers, some schools don’t.” Also, “No, you will not need a cape.”

4. Talking about bullies

Summer camp has provided us with many opportunities for good talks on appropriate and inappropriate behavior. One of the talks we had this summer was about a fight W saw between two older kids. Apparently one kid had been picking on the other for a few days. We talked about bullying, name calling, and the weird gray area of tattling.

When our kids are young we work with them on not being a tattle-tale, but as they get older, I feel like we need to support them on talking to us about things they see that are not OK. I hope I made it clear to W he could talk to me or his grandmother about anything.

5. Going back-to-school shopping

Is there anything more thrilling than picking out a new backpack for the school year?!! W is also excited because his new school district’s uniform shirt color is green. All major wardrobe shopping purchases have been on hold with the notice, “We will get this before school starts.” In other words, W is very excited to be getting new sneakers soon.

6. Having a “fresh start” week

We also have decided to make the week before school  a “fresh start” week for cleaning up his room and donating all of the clothes that no longer fit him. We are big fans of hand-me-downs and W enjoys being able to pass on the clothes shared with him that he has now outgrown. I feel like this process of cleaning and donating will be helpful by celebrating his growth, which will mentally prepare him for moving up to a new school.

7. Driving by his new school

As soon as we find out what school he’ll attend, I plan on doing several drive-bys so it feels familiar for both of us. Doing this will not only help us figure out the various ways to get there and home, but also the sight of the building, the playgrounds, and the surrounding area will no longer be mysterious and unknown.

It’s going to be great. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be the first grade!

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