Who will I sit with at lunch?
Will I make friends?
Will I fit in?
The start of a new school year can be scary for some kids, particularly for students who may have just moved, are first-timers in a new school or may not have many friends. These fears can create anxiety and stress and manifest in crying, stomachaches and lost sleep.
Adeola Adelayo, MD, a practicing psychiatrist with Banner Behavioral Health Hospital, shared tips you can use to help your child ease the transition back to school.
1. Listen and Empathize
Tune into your kids and what they are saying.
“Parents assume kids are doing it effortlessly,” Dr. Adelayo says. “But often when scared they can bottle up their emotions.”
She suggests normalizing their feelings — don’t try to get rid of them. Ask your child open-ended questions to create an open dialogue. Let them know their feelings are normal and share your own personal experiences — but, avoid monopolizing the conversation and let them take the lead.
2. Practice, Practice, Practice
Whether it’s a new school, classroom or routine, introduce kids before the big day. It’s a great way to remind them they’ve been there before and they’ve done this before. Going through the routine can replace fear with confidence.
“Some schools are nice to make those accommodations, even if it’s an hour or two before a big school orientation,” Dr. Adelayo says. “Walk the halls, meet the teacher if it’s possible, find the bathrooms, have them practice their locker combination a few times. Make it familiar for them.”
3. Reach Out to the Teacher
If they are old enough to write, have your children email their teacher to introduce themselves and share any concerns they may have. It’s also perfectly normal for parents to send emails to teachers too. The teacher may not respond right away, but it will help him or her know a little more about your child.
“Some parents are fearful of reaching out to their children’s teachers, but teachers love it,” Dr. Adelayo says. “Educators spend a lot of time learning about each student, so you can help save them time.”
4. Make Connections
Your child may have anxiety about making friends, particularly for those who may be new to a neighborhood or school. When kids are able to make social connections before they start school, it can help with the transition.
“Set up playdates for younger children, so they have a chance to get to know each other before school,” Dr. Adelayo recommends.
If you’re new to a school or neighborhood, they may have a social media page that you can connect on and find other parents who have kids your children’s ages. It will not only help your children, but you can meet new people too.
5. Rest and Just Breathe
Going to bed earlier and shutting off the tablet or smartphone before bedtime can ease nerves before the big day. If anxiety is keeping your child up at night, Dr. Adelayo suggests using mindfulness and meditation apps that cater to children, such as Smiling Mind and Stop, Breathe and Think Kids. These apps can calm the mind and reduce anxiety.
Let Someone Know
If your child is still needing support and isn’t adjusting well, let someone know at the school and speak with your pediatrician. You can also reach out to the Banner Behavioral Health Intake Line at 480-448-7871.
Editor’s note: Dr. Adeola Adelayo practices in multiple Banner Health locations in the Valley, including Banner Thunderbird, 5555 W. Thunderbird Road in Glendale.