Fighting the first day jitters

August 29, 2018 | Posted in: Elementary, High School, Middle Years

One of the things I have learned both professionally and as a parent is that there often is no better time to communicate than when you have a captive audience.

That’s where my truck comes in.

With the kids in the backseat, there is no Netflix, no YouTube and no Minecraft – just seat belts and a set period of time to fill.

The first day of school is almost here, and I wanted to get a sense of how they were feeling about it. Were they having any first day jitters?

For the last couple weeks, I have been trying to get them to bed a little earlier and wake them up a little sooner. There has been a lot of change already this summer with our family moving into a new house, so we have already been talking a lot about changing our routines when school starts.

For my daughter entering fifth grade – her last elementary school grade – I don’t have too many concerns. She’s a confidant young lady who generally thrives in social situations. But she is entering those dreaded “tween” years, and I am not going to take anything for granted.

My son is a different case. He often struggles with social cues and regulating his emotions.

I asked both of them: “Are you nervous?”

The answers were predictable: One “no” and one “yes.”

It’s sometimes hard to really get at what they might be thinking and car rides across town don’t last forever.

What was my son nervous about, exactly?

Is he worried about his teacher and if she will be nice to him?

Is he worried about making new friends in a new class?

Is he worried about seeing friends from last year and whether or not they will still like him?

Is he worried he will struggle with the higher demands of third grade?

Is he worried about who he will sit with at lunch?

Is he worried about his clothes being cool enough?

Before I could ask my son these questions, our ride was over.

Sheri Houck, an elementary school guidance counselor for Unadilla Valley CSD, loves working with younger children. She has special groups for kids who need a little extra help, especially those who struggle in social settings.

She said it is normal for children to have some back to school anxiety, and the questions I was projecting for my son were on the right track.

In addition to simply asking your child about what they may be feeling ahead of the return to school, Houck also said there is a lot of easy things a parent can do ahead of time to ease the transition from the summer routine to the school routine.

There are the obvious ones, Houck said, such as getting good sleep, eating healthy foods, and keeping consistent daily routines.

Other tips she referenced include:

  • Back to school shopping together.
  • Planning lunches for the first week of school together.
  • Visit the school and the school’s playground, to rebuild familiarity.
  • Have your child choose and set aside their clothes for the first few days of classes.
  • Follow the route and method of travel to school a few times if possible.
  • Pack your child’s backpack together the day before.
  • Put a reassuring note in your child’s backpack or pocket.

But one trick Houck said she really likes is to have your child bring a small picture or item from home to keep in his or her backpack.

She also suggests simply talking through first day scenarios.

For my son, modeling out scenarios ahead of time seems to help a lot. Lately, this has been about interacting with the boys on his soccer team, some of whom are a year older.

The next time we head across town to soccer practice or the store to buy last minute school supplies, I’ll turn down the radio and talk through the first day for both of my children. I’ll try to ask the right questions. And I’ll be sure to take the scenic route.

Jake Palmateer is a public information specialist for Capital Region BOCES. He is a father of two. Their adventures include camping, hiking, metal detecting, painting, stargazing, reading, fishing, soccer, mowing the lawn and baking cupcakes.

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