September 9, 2019
“I advise against ‘sneaking out’ and encourage parents to be consistent in what they do before they leave … ”
Going back to school isn’t only stressful for you, it can also be a source of anxiety for your kids.
Summertime for kids living across Nola is quickly disappearing and store shelves that once held bathing suits and sunscreen are now filled with endless school supplies. While there is a lot of excitement around seeing old friends with the start of school, kids can also feel anxious about new teachers, a different grade level, or more demanding academics.
So whether parents are looking forward to a quieter household or dreading the back-to-school grind, there are ways to mentally and emotionally prepare kids for a smoother transition into the new academic year.
In the weeks leading up to the start of school, Dr. Charles Haydel Jr., a pediatrician with Hale Pediatrics, receives many phone calls from worried parents who have a child with sudden tummy aches. Dr. Haydel finds that these stomach issues tend to be mostly caused by anxiety related to school versus a serious medical problem.
“Across any age group, it’s really common that there is some excitement that goes along with getting back to school and seeing old friends again,” Dr. Haydel says. “But I think there is always some anxiety component no matter what level you are.”
Purchasing a new backpack and picking out school supplies can be an easy way for parents to stoke their child’s excitement about the start of school. Dr. Haydel recently did this with his oldest daughter, who is entering kindergarten at Sacred Heart.
“It also gives them a little responsibility,” he says.
Dr. Haydel also suggests getting back into a routine a week or two before school actually starts. Summer can mean a less strict schedule with relaxed bedtimes and sleeping in later. It’s good mental prep to have your child wake up at the time that they would for school, he says. However, the transition into these harder waking times can be made easier by setting the clock a little earlier each morning.
For kids beginning a new school, it’s important to make a few trips with them to see the campus and become comfortable with these unfamiliar surroundings. Even if they are unable to take a scheduled tour of the school, Dr. Haydel advises visiting the playground so that their child can make a positive connection. Parents should also take advantage of any orientation opportunities where their child can meet their teachers and see the classrooms. This can greatly dispel any of those back-to-school jitters.
Kids who have been in school longer and who are entering higher grade levels are less concerned about their teachers and more focused on viewing school as work.
“They are already prepared for what the classroom will be like. In general, I think they are sadder that the summer is ending and that school is not going to be fun,” Dr. Haydel says.
Parents can help to dissipate their child’s lack of enthusiasm by speaking with them about the aspects of school that are fun. This can be as simple as mentioning friends that they haven’t seen all summer to talking about sports that they might want to play.
Parents can help make the summer-to-school transition easier by staying organized. If there are school forms that need to be signed or well visits that need to get done, it is important to schedule those ahead of time. Many kids need to be put back on ADHD medications or have their dosage changed because they took a break over the summer. Dr. Haydel’s office can get backed up during this busy time, which can end up putting more undue stress on parents.
Separation anxiety is one of the more common situations encountered when starting school, says Dr. Haydel. During the initial drop-offs, it is helpful for parents to spend extra time with their child, if possible.
“I advise against ‘sneaking out’ and encourage parents to be consistent in what they do before they leave (a kiss or a high five), so that their child can get used to the new routine and be comfortable knowing their parent is leaving, but will be back later,” Dr. Haydel says.
Saying farewell to summer and embarking on a new school year can be a challenging shift for families, but it is important for parents to remain calm as well. Dr. Haydel advises not to overcompensate by over preparing their child for school, which can only cause more anxiety. However, it is normal for parents to feel nervous about letting go and having someone else in charge of their child all day.
“We worry more than our parents did, but that is not always a bad thing,” he says.
Sarah Herndon is a freelance writer, mom, and frequent contributor to Nola Family.