Helping your child adjust to a new school year

August 20, 2013 8:13:36 AM PDT
A generation or so ago, most kids stayed home until they went off to kindergarten or first grade. Some experienced what psychologists call separation anxiety.

Today, with daycare and pre-school the norm, many kids can't remember a time when they didn't get care outside the home, so the transition isn't the same.

Yet they experience a change of setting, a new teacher, perhaps a new peer group, and any change can bring anxiety.

Action News spoke with Dr. George McClosky, a child psychologist at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. He assured us that some stress is normal any time a change takes place. But if your child exhibits unusual behavior like different moods, a switch in eating habits, and the like, it's time to consider outside help, especially if things don't resolve in a few days.

Start by talking things out with your child. Oftentimes, just allowing a few minutes to "vent" is all it takes. But if things don't resolve, think about where to get help.

A school almost certainly will have professionals who deal with these issues on a broader scale, and they can be your partners in moving toward a solution. Your child's physician, who, like you, knows your child, is another good resource.

These professionals are also likely to know experts who can provide the next level of care, should that be necessary. There are a number of steps you should take before the first day of class to ease the impact of any transition.

If a new school allows, take your child for a visit. Often you can meet the teacher, see the classroom, perhaps even allow a "test-sitting" at your child's actual desk. Anything you can do to create a sense of familiarity will help.

If friends are also making the transition to that new school, talk about that. If your child will be riding a bus to school, that's a major change. Often, providers have programs which introduce kids to the concept, coaching them on getting on and off safely, showing them bus stops, and introducing the driver. In many cases, this program will include a "preview" ride to and from the school. Ask what's available.

Take advantage of all these resources as best you can. Just because your child has been to school before doesn't guarantee a stress-free end to summer. Advancing to the next grade carries one level of anxiety. A transition to a new building, as when going from elementary to middle school, is bigger.

If budget considerations or a move to a new town result in a transfer, that's yet more stressful because your child may have to enter an entirely-new peer group.

Again, as Dr. McCloskey says, expect some anxiety, but think about what you'll do if it doesn't resolve in a few days. You know your child best.

Educators and health care providers know local professionals who can help should you have need. Together, you can help your child adjust and enjoy the new school year.


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