New beginnings can often be exciting, scary and full of the unknown. It is normal to feel anxious or unsure when we are starting something new. Whether that is your little preppie starting school for the first time or your older child returning to school, big feelings can arise around a different teacher, new classmates and a new classroom.
Below are a few tips that may assist your children ( and you ) as you navigate these new beginnings.
1. Listen to all those fears about school. Let your child fully express their anxiety and worries without telling them “it will be ok – you will make lots of friends, or it will be fun.” So often humans just need to talk and vent their worries and fears without someone trying to fix or tell them why their fear is irrational. Just listening and offering empathy can go a long way in helping a child feel heard. You might use some phrases like:
“I hear you feel scared, it’s a big change”
“Tell me what else you are feeling”
“I’m listening, tell me all the things you are worried about”
When children feel heard they are more likely to move past their feelings, instead of hanging onto them. (They also may need to talk about this again and again and this is so normal when processing big feelings)
2. Make Space for some connection and play before school.Get yourself up earlier in the morning to ensure you have at least 15 minutes to connect and play. It’s so much easier for a child to get dressed, eat breakfast, find shoes, etc when they feel good. Connection and special time fill up your child’s cup, so taking a little bit of time to snuggle, giggle, be silly or whatever your child likes can make it easier for them to do the tasks they need to. If we are stressed in the morning, children often pick up on that and it can make drop-offs and getting to school challenging, so if you are relaxed, it can help children feel better about separating and trying something new. (I’m also well aware as a parent, that sometimes this is impossible… we are all doing the best job we can!)And why we are talking about play, if your child is still into playing imagination games, then role-playing schools can be a fantastic way for a child to make sense of all that’s happening. Letting the child be the teacher and the one in charge can help the child have some power, as well as giving you an insight as to what some of their fears or worries maybe.
3. Check-in with You How are you feeling about them starting? Do you feel anxious and worried? Kids often feed of where we are at, so if you have big fears popping up, go and talk to a friend or listening partner and express your worries to them, so that you can find some reprieve. Children are always feeling our energy around life and if we feel anxious, then they pick up that there must be something to worry about. If you can deal with your worries then that helps immensely in them taking a big step into the world.
4. Less Talking, More Playing When you pick up your child from school, try and give them all your attention for a good half an hour of play and connection. Kids use a great deal of energy at school and play is often a way they process their feelings. As this will be a new experience and often children hold all their feelings for the day, your child may need some decompression time at the end of the day. If you can have some laughter and connection time, it can help their nervous system settle and then they may want to share more about their day and what happened. If you are getting some one-word answers when you ask “how was your day” just leave it for a while, have some connection time and revisit later.
It’s also good to know that especially with new beginnings, children may be carrying some stress and worry around how it’s all going to look and feel and the way they can process that is through tears. So please know that if there are tears or overwhelm in the first week or two, that is very normal and very welcome as children express all they have been holding.