While my daughter handled this morning, her first day of kindergarten, like a pro, I was as jittery as a Tampa party planner.
The nerves started building for me yesterday morning and grew so ferocious that by the time we reached the schoolyard, I was the one looking for a leg to cling to.
A friend there admitted she was high anxiety too. She said the morning was bringing her a rush of emotions over her own first school days of years past. “Like PTSD,” she said.
I expected, and had prepared for, my daughter’s nerves, but not my own. Why was, and am, I feeling so out of sorts about sending my daughter to a school where she’s already spent a year, knows the teachers and where she and our family are already comfortable? And one into which she walked all smiles, holding hands with new and old friends?
“I think we really love our kids, I think we are highly aware of these amazing transitions, I think we are a generation of parents who left jobs and … career tracks (at least at some level) to parent these kids. To watch them move on is bittersweet,” Meghan Leahy, a D.C. parenting coach and frequent On Parenting contributor, told me when I asked her about this unexpected state.
“True nervousness, when it is not based in reality of the kids, is also normal. We know all of the ins and outs of school. The bullies, the mean teachers, the snobs. [We ask ourselves] is my kid strong enough? Brave enough? Friendly enough? Sporty enough? Pretty enough? Smart enough?”
These are normal, common feelings, she said. But that doesn’t mean they can’t cause problems. Leahy went on to explore their origins and also talk about why we need to work to get over such anxieties and how to protect our kids from them.
“These worries are normal, but if they persist past the first day, the parent needs to ask themselves what this is about,” Leahy said. “Were you bullied? Were you the shy kid no one spoke to? Were you the loud one, always shushed? Were you the smart one, always called on (and embarrassed)? Were you the child with a learning disability, never diagnosed or helped properly?
“All of these feelings come rushing back, even if we cannot attach them to a direct memory. These feelings can be overwhelming and really hurt our ability, as parents, to look at our children as their own people. Objectively.
“Some of our anxiety needs some more help (therapy, etc.). Much of our parental anxieties simply need a gut-check. Simply bringing awareness to our worries is often a way to assuage them. I have parents ask themselves: ‘Is this about me or my child?’ …
“I also encourage anxious parents to create alliances in school. Reach out to the counselor, teacher, etc. As a former teacher and school counselor, I would have parents say to me all the time, ‘I am a nervous wreck about this year, what can I do?’ ” I have yet to meet a caring adult in a school who won’t help. And, sometimes, these adults have amazing insights into your child and their growth process, and will often say, ‘Everything is okay. Really.’ ”
The major downside, Leahy said, is that kids can often pick up on our anxieties and may read it as ”Mom [or Dad] doesn’t believe I can do this. Look at her eyes, full of worry.”
“I don’t want people to cover their emotions, but it is pretty important that parents stop transmitting anxiety to their children, either verbally or physically,” Leahy said.
Her advice on how to do this?
● Check the reality of their anxieties. (Who is this really about, the child or me?)
● Create a plan of connecting with the school.
● Practice non-anxious communication. For instance, “I believe in you, you are a wonderful child and student just the way you are, we can work through challenges together as a family.”
●And breathe. Go ahead and sit on a bench and watch a tree. Breathe in, breathe out. Feel yourself relax. [In my case,] I repeat to myself, “I can handle this. My child is okay. We are okay.”
Are you having back-to-school jitters? What do you think is causing them?