It’s back-to-school time, so we have to help our children with managing their first-term jitters. Anxiety at the beginning of a new school year is normal because it comes with newness and lots to adapt to. Did you ever suffer from first-term jitters and how can you help your child cope better?

Why Do Children Experience First-Term Jitters?

Think back to your school days, or even the first week or two in a new job. A new school year whether in preschool, primary or high school is filled with:

  • Increased anxiety due to the new and unfamiliar
  • Change is tough initially
  • Getting used to:
    • New teacher
    • New classroom
    • New playground
    • New friends
    • New rules
    • New timetable
    • New expectations

Is Change Good For Children?

While change is almost always initially unsettling, change is also the stimulus for all growth. As the saying goes, “If you’re uncomfortable you must be growing!” The trick is to help children keep their perspective, and teach them to dissolve their anxiety quickly so that they can start enjoying themselves.

Whenever you start something new, you can feel a bit incompetent and lack some confidence because you have never been ‘here’ before. This is why you will sometimes hear children say they have a sore tummy the night before school starts or the morning of the first day or even the first week of school. It’s nerves and anxiety. It’s common and entirely normal, as long as it doesn’t go on for more than a week or two, by which stage your child should have more or less settled.

What Strategies Can Parents Use To Stay Calm?

The lipstick-kiss ritual

This was something I used to do with my children in their first few weeks when they were in preschool. Before I left them, I would plant a big lipstick kiss on the back of their hand to remind them that I would be thinking of them all day. It became a real ritual and a calming emotional anchor when it came time for me to leave.

Swop drop-off roles

Where flexibility allows, if your child displays more anxious tendencies on arrival at school with one parent than the other, then swap roles and don’t feel guilty about it. My children were much better being dropped off by dad than by me because they were feeding off my maternal anxiety. Maternal or paternal anxiety is incredibly infectious!

Dangle a carrot

Sometimes children need to have their focus extended beyond the ‘scary’ school day that is making them anxious, to ‘pull them through’ the settling period at the start of a year. This works particularly well for pre-schoolers up to Grade Two. “After school today we are going to: buy a goldfish; have tea with granny; bake a cake; see the puppies and kittens at the pet shop (this one was a particular favourite of ours)”. Just pick simple things that will excite your child. They don’t have to be fancy or expensive, it’s the anticipation that’s important.

Routine Is Essential To Keep Everyone Calm

A regular household routine helps children de-stress because they know what’s going to happen next. This goes for both the morning and bedtime routines. Children feel a far greater sense of control and personal organisation when they have a routine to follow; when the order of how things get done in the day stays the same even if the timing is slightly out.

Routine relaxes and keeps families sane because life is predictable.

How Can Parents Help Their Children Keep Perspective?

Over dinner, play the Sweets and Sours game so that everyone can share their good and bad moments of the day. It’s a great way to hear from everyone, even your non-talker children.

How Going to School Fosters Independence in Children

The ultimate goal of parenting is actually to let our children go. This is often forgotten in the craziness of everyday life.

Going to school:

  • Creates some separation between parents and their children
  • Allows children to take responsibility for themselves by learning to go to the classroom by themselves eventually
  • Carry their own bags
  • Pack and unpack their own bags
  • Take responsibility for their possessions
  • Create their own friendship circle beyond the family
  • Follow interests and talents
  • Express themselves
  • Compete

Sanity-Saving Strategies for Parents

Here are some ideas from my own experience as a busy, working parent:

  • Routine
  • Layout breakfast the night before
  • Pack lunches the night before, except for the fresh stuff
  • Fill water bottles and put them in the fridge
  • Put out vitamins and supplements
  • Get the kids to put their uniforms out the night before
  • Bags packed the night before
  • Play with your kids
    • It will create bonds between you and dissolve stress at the same time
  • Eat dinner together
    • Teach table manners and the art of conversation
    • Share news

Bear in mind that children all settle at different rates. Your own sense of confidence and the belief that they will be just fine will have a major effect on them too. Mums and dads, put some of these tips into action and settle down.

Book me for a talk for the parents at your school or in your organisation. Let Go and Let Grow is fantastic for inspiring parents to raise resourceful, independent and resilient kids for the 2020s and beyond. You can also read my book Future-proof Your Child (Penguin Random House)

Much love,
Nikki Bush
Human Potential and Parenting Expert helping you to win at work and life

Enjoy the interview I did on eNCA, where we discussed tips to help the back-to-school nerves