FFFStarting School

No. 82; September 2017

Starting school is a major milestone for children and parents. School is a place away from home where children will have some of their greatest challenges, successes, failures, and embarrassments. Because school is beyond the control of parents or guardians, it can be stressful for both the child and the parents or guardians.

At school, children will learn about how the world works, about appropriate social interactions, and about people outside the family. They will learn about their strengths, weaknesses, interests, and who they are socially. They will have to perform in a way that they never have had to at home. They have to separate from parents, cope with social and academic challenges, and make friends.

Starting school can be both fun and stressful. Many children show some anxiety about school. Anxiety can occur at the beginning of a new school year or when a child changes schools. A child who has been in day care may be more comfortable with the daily ritual of separation. These children may be less anxious for the first few days of nursery school, preschool, or kindergarten.

If parents or guardians have mixed feelings (e.g. guilt, fear, or anxiety) about sending a child to school, it can add to the child's hesitancy, or reluctance. A child's experience starting school is influenced by the preparation and the family's feelings and attitude.

What Parents Can Do To Help Their Child:

  • Show interest and be supportive and encouraging.
  • Talk to your child about what to expect, such as the activities (nap, snacks, and story-time), the schedule, the toys, and the other children.
  • Take your child to school to get used to the layout (where the classroom is, where the bathrooms are, which cubbyhole or coat hook is your child's, etc.) and to introduce your child to the teacher.
  • Let your child know it's normal to feel nervous or worried about being away from home and suggest taking a familiar object or a family picture to school.
  • Getting on the bus with a favorite playmate or carpooling with a friend can ease the daily transition from home to school. Identifying a buddy at school can also help decrease fear about being alone in the new setting.
  • Make the getting-ready-for-school ritual as stress-free as possible. For example, lay out all notebooks and clothes the night before. Having the child help with school preparations (example, make lunch) the night before can also reduce stress for everyone.

What To Do If Your Child Has Difficulties:

  • If your child has significant difficulty with separation, consider staying for a portion of the first day or two. Discuss this plan with the teacher. As things become more comfortable, make your stay shorter, until eventually, you stay only long enough to help with settling school items, greeting the teacher, and then say goodbye.