Chris Oaks spoke with Stephanie Roth, director of elementary instruction for Findlay City Schools.
Q: The first day of school can be a time of great excitement, but also a source of apprehension for some students. Kindergartners, for example, are often nervous about what to expect. What can parents say or do to reassure a child?
A: The first thing is to take the time to talk with their child. Ask how they’re feeling, and really listen for the answer. Once you’ve pinpointed the cause or causes of the anxiety, you can use different strategies to address them.
Q: To emphasize, the key is to really listen and not be dismissive, right?
A: Exactly. We can actually make things worse by not acknowledging those emotions. They may seem unfounded and silly to us as adults, but for a child these fears are real.
Don’t marginalize it, but you don’t want to feed into that fear either, because that, too, can make it worse. So allow them to do the talking, and gradually try to steer the conversation to all the positives, the things they’re looking forward to about going to school.
Q: It’s not just kids who are going to school for the first time. I would imagine many of these same emotions come up when a student will be attending a new school, perhaps because the family relocated over the summer.
A: Certainly. And even beyond that, it can be a concern for any student who will have a new teacher, different classmates, and so on. Or, moving from primary to intermediate school to middle school. The basic emotions are much the same, even as the child gets a little older.
Q: What about a student with special needs? Whether that might be an obvious developmental disability of some kind, or a student who needs help in a special class for a subject or two, we know that at that age, anything that makes you different potentially makes you a target. So, in that case especially, those fears may be justified.
A: In a case like that, it’s important to discuss strategies for dealing with the problem should it materialize. The first recommendation, of course, is to walk away so as not provoke a confrontation.
But it’s important to know how to diffuse a situation and how to approach a teacher or school administrator, if necessary. It can be difficult for some children to be assertive in that way, so doing some role-playing may help make them more comfortable that they’ll know what to do if something happens.
Q: In many cases, kids will be fine after the first day. For others, it may take longer. How long do we allow for those jitters to go away before it might be considered a larger problem?
A: I would think within the first week. Certainly, if you’re still seeing signs after a couple of weeks, especially if you’re starting to notice physical symptoms or behavioral signs like irritability or sleeplessness, then it’s time to take the next step.
Contact the teacher or principal to let them know what you’re observing. Perhaps an appointment with the school counselor to help come up with additional strategies.
We want every child to succeed, and we have many resources that can help.
“Good Mornings!” with Chris Oaks airs from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. weekdays on WFIN, 1330 kHz. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 419-422-4545.
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