Dealing with Children's Anxiety on the First Day of School
The first day of school can be nerve wracking for children of any age. Whether it's their first time being away from their parents for an extended time or worry over making friends in their new class, expect children to be anxious and nervous as they start the new school year. Having effective strategies in place to deal with children's anxiety can help make everyone's first day of school more comfortable and fun. Here are a few tips you can use to help the children in your classroom relax and enjoy the first day of the new school year:
Preschool and Kindergarten
The separation process can be difficult for young children and their families. Supporting families through the process can help build trust and strengthen the connection between school and home. In The Insightful Teacher, Nancy Bruski states that it's important to not bypass children's feelings by rushing the separation process. "When children are allowed to experience and express their feelings and receive comfort from supportive adults, they master them more fully than when teachers attempt to bypass them by rushing the process," Bruski explains.
There are a variety of strategies you can use to help children and families deal with separation anxiety. Here are a few Nancy Bruski provides in The Insightful Teacher:
- Plan for Gradual EntryMany preschool programs and kindergarten classes plan for a gradual entry. Children may only go to school for half a day the first day and a family member may stay with the child for a period of time before leaving. Another option is for half the class to come the first day and the other half of the class come the second day before the whole class attends school on the third day. This gives teachers more opportunities to spend time with children individually and help them overcome their separation anxiety.
- Provide Support for ParentsParents often have a hard time dealing with separation anxiety. You may find that they want to stay with their child even if the child is fine with them leaving. Have support strategies in place to help parents adjust. Ask a director or other staff member to help parents with the transition. Reassure parents that their child is adjusting well, and always give parents a chance to say goodbye when they drop children off in the morning.
- Establish a Goodbye RoutineEven if a child seems to be fine with his or her family leaving, it's always a good idea to have them say a proper goodbye. This will help prevent children from becoming upset later in the day when they realize their parents have left. Encourage families to come up with a goodbye routine (e.g., a kiss on the cheek, a hug, or a wave goodbye) to help decrease children's anxiety on the first day of school and later on in the school year.
- Find Ways to Reassure ChildrenReassurance is an important part of helping children deal with separation anxiety on the first day of school. Two ways you can reassure children is by having families send in a family photo for children to keep in their cubby and by encouraging families to write reassuring goodbye notes to their children. Reading books about the first day of school and separation anxiety is another great way to reassure children. If children are upset, you can also offer to write down a note of what children want to tell their parents. This is often a great way to help young children express their feelings of loneliness and anxiety.
Older children often feel anxious about their return to school for a variety of reasons. Worry about making new friends and uncertainty about whether they will like their new teacher and classroom are common concerns. It's important for you to have effective strategies in place to help elementary-age students overcome their anxiety about school:
- Family Pictures and Summer MementosAsk children (at open house or by sending them a letter before school starts) to bring in family pictures and small summer mementos on the first day of school. Children can use these items to introduce themselves to you and their classmates. You can also ask them to bring in these items for a class craft and art project. Making posters that describe themselves and what they did over the summer will help children adjust to being back in the school environment and will help everyone get to know one another.
- Entertaining IcebreakersAll of the children in your class will be nervous about the first day of school in some way or another, and everyone can feel a little awkward when they don't know each other very well. Planning some entertaining icebreakers will help children relax and feel more comfortable with their peers. Name games, scavenger hunts, and practicing yoga poses as a class are just a few examples of fun activities and icebreakers that can help lighten the mood on children's first day back at school.
- Engaging IntroductionsThe first day of school is all about introductions–to you as the teacher, to other children in the class, to the class rules and procedures, and to the curriculum. Try to make these introductions as engaging as possible. Fun games with small rewards are a great way to help children remember the names, facts, and information they learn on the first day of school.
- Fun Group Activity to End the DayEnding the day with a large group activity can help children learn to work together while they continue to get to know one another. It also helps the day end on an exciting note, which will help children look forward to coming back to school the next day.
Be sure to browse our section of classroom essentials and our various arts and crafts materials for different ideas and tools you can use to help children deal with their anxiety on the first day of school.