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Talking about First-Day Jitters

Published on: August 01, 2007

Back to school first-day jittersThe big day is coming, and your children (and you!) might not be sure what to expect. Even if you’re not talking about it yet, the idea could be in the air. As soon as you start shopping for new lunchboxes, pens and binders, your kids — from 5-year-olds to seasoned high school pros — may begin to wonder, “What’s the first day of school going to be like?”

Some kids (but not mine!) may be simply thrilled to start school again. Others start worrying about it at bedtime or acting out their fears during the day. And then there are those who say nothing, but their apprehension shows on their faces.

So, what can you say and do to ease those first-day jitters?

Before school begins:

Whether your child is starting preschool, moving up a grade, or going to a new school, it helps if you make a dry run. Go to the school and talk along the way. Point out landmarks and rituals that will help him feel secure. “There’s the playground. What would you like to do there?”  “Here’s where I will walk you in the door.”

Go inside
It can calm children to meet their new teacher or go inside a new school in advance. If your school doesn’t have an event planned, be bold: Ask if you can stop by. Use this time to visit the classroom and ask questions about the drop-off policy or anything else you need to know. If your child is new to the school, request a class list and call a few kids for play dates.

Get on schedule
You can help avert first-day grumpiness by waking kids up earlier and dialing back bedtime for at least a week before school begins. You might do this in 15-minute increments until you are back on track. But don’t just do it; talk about why this will help make getting up for school easier.

Act it out
Preschoolers may enjoy playing school with you, using dolls and stuffed animals. If you’re the teacher, ask your child how he feels and talk about his answer.

Imagine success
Reviewing the plan step-by-step may help your child feel secure. “On the first day, we’ll get up a little early and play on the school playground before school begins. Then, I’ll walk you into the room, meet your teacher with you and say goodbye.”

Imagine your feelings

Will your feelings get in your child’s way on the first day? Keep in mind that if you feel like clinging, your child may cling harder to you. So figure out a way to help yourself let go — and bring some tissues for after your getaway.

On the big day:

Review the routine
On the way to school, talk about how you will meet the teacher together. Remind your child what time he’ll be picked up, or when he will get on the school bus. Don’t mention how much you’ll miss your child! That might only make him miss you more.

Acknowledge feelings
If your child becomes upset, allow her to have her feelings. You might say, “I know you’re scared. And I know you will be OK. What’s scaring you the most?” Specific questions will encourage your child to deal with specific fears so you can really talk them through.

Encourage independence
One of the important things kids learn in school is how to solve problems independently. Remember, you’re not always going to be there to do it for him. So if your child feels particularly scared, comfort him and then help him develop a solution. “I know you’re scared; let’s go meet your teacher together.” Or, “Why don’t we ask that boy to play a game?” In this way, you are helping your child take the initiative to figure things out for himself.

Now it’s time to leave — so go!

Josh Daniel is a parenting writer and editor, educator and father. He has created award-winning parenting materials for Sesame Workshop, PBS Parents and Nick Jr. Visit him at

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