Before she sits in on The Today Show this week, parenting expert Dr. Michele Borba joined us this morning with advice for parents on how to help your kids transition from Summer to School ...
1. Listen to your child’s school worries. Identify your child back-to-school worries and create simple solutions to reduce those you can. Most typical back to school worries involve these issues: “Will I be safe (and not get lost or get on the wrong bus)?” “Will I fit in (and be accepted by the other kids and find friends)?” “Will I be capable (and able to do the work)?” “Will the teacher be nice (and not yell or be too hard)?” “Will Mommy come back?”
· Learn the lay of the land. Boosting your child’s comfort zone about a new location helps reduce jitters. Take a tour of the school, check it out online or even print out a map and schedule
· Don’t over-hype the school! “What a gorgeous campus!” or “You’re going to be soooooo happy here!” type of comments don’t ease jitters. In fact, they can backfire and cause more anxiety. So don’t build up false expectations so much as to disappoint your child if things fall short of your build-up. Keep your excitement to yourself.
3. Find a buddy. Knowing just one classmate can minimize first day jitters so help your kid learn the name of at least one peer. The two kids don’t have to become soul mates –just acquaintances!
4. Prepare for separation. Rehearsing a goodbye can help a younger or more sensitive child feel more secure when the big moment really comes. Doing so also helps reduce anxiety so the child knows what to expect. Ease the back to school fears by slowly stretching your child’s “security” levels. Slowly increase the number of caregivers to second circle (teacher, friends) and finally outer circle (strangers). Gradually stretch separation times. Find people your child trusts—a babysitter, relative, or friends to be watch your child. Then “come and go” to help your child build confidence, recognize he can survive without you and you do come back.
5. Create a special goodbye. Practice a special private “goodbye” just between the two of you like a secret handshake or special kiss to help your child start to pull away. Then tell him you’ll be using that same goodbye each time you drop him off. Here are a few ways to make goodbyes smoother and less stressful for both of you.
6. Teach coping skills. Studies at the University of Minnesota found that when kids feel they have some control over what’s happening, anxieties decrease and smooth the transition. Here are worry reducers to practice with your child.
· Teach: “Talk back to the worry.” Researchers at the University of McGuill found that teaching a child to “talk to back to the fear” helps reduce anxiety. The child so she feels she is in charge of the worry and not the other way around. The trick is to have your child practice telling herself she’ll be okay to build up confidence. For a younger child: “Go away worry, leave me alone. Mommy will come back.” For an older child: “I won’t let the worry get me. I can handle this.”
· Point him to “The first thing.” Not knowing what to do or where to go upon arriving at a new scene increases anxiety. So offer “first thing” suggestions. For a young child: Pointing her towards an activity she enjoys—like a puzzle or blocks. For an older child: Suggest he go to the basketball court that he enjoys or meet up with that acquaintance he met at the park near the water fountain.
7. Say goodbye and don’t linger. A kid’s anxiety increases if you make too big of a deal about leaving or draw out the goodbye. The key is to establish a consistent pattern of goodbye so your child knows what ritual to expect, realizes she can make it through the time apart and that you really will return.
Be patient but know when to worry. Adjustment may take from a day to several weeks, so be patient. For most kids separation anxieties are normal and pass. The key is to watch for a gradual increase in confidence and a diminishment of school and separation worries. If the anxiety continue or increase, check in with the teacher or counselor to see if they have suggestions to help your child adjust.