I spoke with Diane Peters Mayer, a Pennsylvania psychotherapist and author of the new book “Overcoming School Anxiety: How to Help Your Child Deal With Separation, Tests, Homework, Bullies, Math Phobia, and Other Worries.” (A title like that makes me appreciate not being a kid these days!) What follows are her tips for easing the transition regardless of the age or stage of your child.
“This is your child’s first step in his academic career. He’ll be leaving the safety of home, dealing with new rules, new adults, new classmates,” Mayer points out. So it’s natural for a child to be nervous.
Don’t dismiss the child’s worry. “You should never say to a child who expresses a concern, ‘That’s silly; you’ll be fine.’ ” Your child is sharing his feelings with you, and you need to honor those feelings.
Help the child find solutions. If, for example, your child is worried that the teacher won’t like her or that she won’t make new friends, you can assure her that that’s unlikely to happen and then add, “So what do you think you could do to make sure you get along with the teacher?” Mayer says that this age is the perfect time for kids to start learning the coping skills they’ll use throughout their lives.
Stay calm.As parents, we’re terrified about sending our children into the cold, cruel world of education, away from the loving home. But don’t let your child see you sweat. On the other hand, Mayer warns, don’t be too much of a cheerleader, because that can put added stress on your child. “Don’t say, ‘You’re going to love school; I loved school,’ ” Mayer advises, because if the child turns out not to love school, he might have a harder time sharing that with you for fear of disappointing you.
Keep things the same at home. Many kindergartners will wonder what their parents are doing while they are at school. So Mayer advises to say to your child, “While you’re at school, Mommy is going to go to the grocery store.” That way, the child will be able to think about that if she gets anxious during the day. Also, a note in the lunchbox reminds a child that Mom and Dad are still thinking about her even if they’re not physically present.
This might be the hardest transition your child will ever make, even harder than going off to college. Kids are leaving a familiar and smaller elementary school, going to a big school where they will be changing classes, meeting more people. It’s important to note that it’s middle school — not high school — where bullying reaches its peak.