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Preparing for School and Relieving School Anxiety

Prepared by Kimberly Foschi, MS Sp.Ed

School is the beginning of an amazing adventure of learning and discovery, the first step on your child’s educational journey. To help make the transition as easy as possible, take some steps ahead of time to prepare your child. Many children experience anxiety about starting pre-school and kindergarten, and it’s mainly because they aren’t quite sure what it’s all about. Talk about what he will be learning at school, why it’s important and how much fun he’s going to have. Talk about how he will be playing games, making crafts, singing songs and meeting lots of new friends. Be sure to tell him that you will be there (or name the person who will be) to pick him up as soon as school is over.

For some kids, school can be a tense and fearsome place. Children with special needs in particular may have problems understanding what is expected of them, may face painful social exclusion, and may find the work confusing and stressful. As a parent all you can do is listen and, hopefully, help ease their anxiety. Here are a few strategies we’ve gathered.

  1. Acknowledge the problem. Hearing, "Don't worry!" doesn’t help when you're anxious about something; therefore it probably won’t comfort your child either. The most important thing you can do for a child experiencing school anxiety is to acknowledge that her fears are real to her. If nothing else, you'll ensure that she won't be afraid to talk to you about them.

  2. Ask, "What three things are you most worried about?" Sometimes it’s thoughts running wild that will most upset your child. By making him try to come up with examples it may help him sort through the fear.

  3. Ask, "What three things are you most excited about?" Most kids can think of something good, even if it’s just the fact that they get to play outside during the day. But chances are your child does have things she really enjoys about school that just gets drowned out by all the scary stuff. Bring those good things out into the light. (Making new friends, play time, crafts, possible trips, etc.)

  4. Do some role-playing. Once you have some concrete examples of anxiety-provoking events, help your children figure out an alternate way to deal with them. Discuss possible scenarios and engage in role play with them.

  5. Keep the lines of communication open. Let your child know that no matter what it may be, he can always talk to you. It's not always necessary to have solutions to his problems. Sometimes just talking about things out loud with a trusted adult makes them seem less threatening. In the event the situation does become overwhelming for your child, you want to be the first to know about it.

  6. Resist the urge to fix everything. There are some instances in which parents do have to take action. If your child is in a class that's too challenging, or is having trouble because an individual education plan (IEP) isn't being followed, there are steps you can take. But you'll also want to teach your child strategies to deal with certain situations that may not be able to change.

Adapted from A Smooth Start, by Gail O’Connor, originally published by Scholastic and from How to Relieve School Anxiety, by Terri Mauro, originally published by About.com Guides.


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