Q&A: Calming back-to-school jittersWritten by Wendy Kittlitz
What's inside this article
Question: My child is moving up a grade in elementary school this fall and is terribly anxious about this change. How can I prepare him to get through this?
Some children find change very threatening and anxiety producing. First, normalize that for your son. You could say something like, "I know that sometimes new things can be scary. I feel afraid to try new things too sometimes. Can we talk about what is making you feel that way?"
This will help your son realize that his feelings are okay and that you can help him manage them. If he is able to identify what he is anxious about (perhaps the new teacher, new routine or new classmates), you may be able to find some practical solutions to ease the transition. You could ask to go meet the new teacher as soon as he or she is available, and practice the new school routines. Unfortunately, many schools don’t communicate all their plans until the school year starts so this may or may not be possible.
The bigger picture
Keep in mind the bigger picture: anxiety signals to us that there may be some need for caution. So validate your son’s feelings by reminding him that caution is a good thing and that he should listen to what his heart and body are telling him. But also help him understand that learning to talk through the things that worry him is a good way of learning to evaluate whether the fears are necessary or not.
Using What if? questions and rehearsing possible responses may help equip your son to take some control over his choices when faced with unsettling changes. For example, you could talk about how a new teacher might not do things the way your son is used to. Ask him, What could you do if this happens? Talking things through in this way may help your son identify the things that he should feel cautious about: new classmates may include some kids that will be hard to get along with. How can you help your son learn some skills to cope with that possibility?
Talk it through
Over all, be willing to talk about your son’s fears rather than dismissing them with a hasty, "It will all be fine; don’t worry so much!" Help your son evaluate the worries that "keep him up at night" and help him develop a tool kit of coping strategies for dealing with the things that might happen.
And if the thing your son fears really does happen – perhaps, for example, he does not get put in the same class as his best friend – validate that loss and help him grieve it ("I know that is hard and so disappointing! What a tough break!") before encouraging him to move on.
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