For children (and parents), going back to school—or even going for the first time—can be a time filled with excitement—and anxiety. Whether a parent has a child beginning school for the first time, starting over at a brand new school, or living with a disability that might require some extra support in those first crucial days, Jessica Glass Kendorski, associate professor of psychology at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, says that connection and predictability are important factors in easing the transition.
"It's much easier for a child to transition to an environment where they feel connected, and feel they are able to predict what they may experience," Kendorski explains. She offers a few tips for parents:
Get the lay of the land. Before school even begins, parents can visit a new school; request a copy of their child's schedule; meet with their teacher and even request to visit the bus. "The more you are able to provide a preview of what the environment will look like and what they will experience, the transition will be less anxiety provoking for you and your child," Kendorski says.
Prepare and practice. Begin practicing the back-to-school routine a few days before the big day, Kendorski says. Visual cues—such as pictures of waking up, getting dressed and eating breakfast—and compiling a checklist of necessary supplies, can also help a child feel more prepared.
Tell a story. Existing research shows that storytelling can help build connections. To that end, Kendorski suggests taking pictures at the new school—of the building, the teachers, the principal, the classroom—and use them to create a story about the first day of school. "Storytelling can help ease transitions and promote a positive connection with the school even before they arrive," she says.
Above all, Kendorski says parents should discuss their child's upcoming school year with enthusiasm and excitement. "Positivity is contagious," she says.
Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine