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Coping with First Day Jitters

August, 2009
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  The start of school elicits all kinds of emotions; excitement for students anticipating seeing their friends again, and relief for parents counting down the days until their restless children can settle back into a routine. For many others though, the first day of school can be a teary event. This is especially true when you are ushering your child to school for the very first time. There are ways to prepare yourself and even very young students for this new milestone in their lives.

  Students starting Nursery and Preschool programs may have the hardest time adjusting. Since they have not yet fully developed their concept of time, they may assume that since they can’t see you, you’ve gone for good. They cannot fathom what "I’ll be back at the end of the school day” means. For working parents, this may not pose as big of a challenge because the child has become accustomed to your regular absence. However, for those whose children are used to having a parent as their sole caretaker; try to make it a point to bring kids out often to visit friends and people they may not be that familiar with before school starts. This will help them adjust to being around other adults so that the new teacher figure will not seem so alien.

  Another tactic to ease the transition is to talk to children about what to expect on the first day. Deborah Nagy-Huang, whose four-year old son now attends Yew Chung International School of Beijing (YCIS), has found that preparation is vital to a good start. "As parents, we have always mentally and physically prepared Jamison for each of his schools by taking him to be ‘interviewed’, touring the schools, visiting the classrooms and of course meeting his teachers prior to actually attending classes. That way, he knew where he was going and what to expect when the big day actually came.”

  Given that everything will seem so new on that first day, having gone through some of the more mundane motions at home can help ease their fears of the unknown. Practice skills and routines that your child may be nervous about, such as putting on their shoes by themselves, going to the bathroom with minimal help, and feeding themselves. If you know that children will be changing shoes and hanging up their backpacks when they first get to school, prepare them by going through the routine together at home. Try and get a class schedule ahead of time and help your child get into the habit of waking up at the right time and eating lunch and snacks during the scheduled meal times.

  Having the schedule before school starts will also help you explain what to expect during the day. Children should know that they may leave the classroom and go to an art studio, have time outdoors, or play with instruments in the music room. Those who are not prepared to move from classroom to classroom may become frightened by all the transitions happening throughout the day, even if they started the morning off confidently. 

  A fun way to build up excitement about going to school is to read age-appropriate books on the topic. Search for books that have a “Back to School” or a “Starting School” theme, like the classic Curious George Goes to School by Margret Rey.
Going into her fifth year teaching at YCIS, Aimee Fang, the K2 Western Co-Teacher, believes in the power of reading with children in order to start meaningful conversations. “It is a good idea to start regularly reading these [books] with your child far in advance of starting school, using it as a starting point to communicate with and listen to your child in order to better understand how they are feeling about this upcoming transition,” she says.
  Aimee recommends “Will I have a Friend?” by Miriam Cohen for nursery students. “[It’s a] great book for younger children ages two and older because the storyline is interesting and easy to follow, and children can easily identify with Jim who, through the course of his first day of school, finally discovers the joy of making new friends.”

  For the preschool set, Aimee suggests Timothy Goes to School by Rosemary Wells, “for older preschoolers ages four and above as it encourages children to just be themselves instead of trying to fit into someone else’s mold.”

  Speaking of fitting in, schools will likely hold an orientation program for parents and students. According to Naomi Saunders, Marketing Officer at YCIS, the school holds an information session to support existing parents and also has a similar session planned for new parents at the start of the new school year.

  Ask your child’s school whether there is something set up specifically for your child’s age group. YCIS has also begun to implement transition strategies for younger students moving up to elementary school. While still in Kindergarten, the K4 students are given a chance to see what Grade 1 will be like by spending scheduled time during the last few months of the school year with Grade 1 students. Doing so helps the returning K4 students feel more confident about their start in elementary school. 

  If there is nothing formal planned at your child’s school, ask if you can show your child around the campus so that he or she can see the classroom, the bathrooms, the music room, the playground, the library and all the areas that students will be using regularly. “There will be orientation for new students, but parents can also bring their child anytime from August 10 to visit the campus and become familiar with the school before they begin,” Naomi says of the YCIS policy. Timid children can feel overwhelmed so go slow and spend some time in each area, explaining what happens in each of those rooms. Even shy children though will be attracted to the toys, books, and new playthings they will see.

  Even as you formulate a plan to initiate your child into the school setting, parents also have to take steps to ensure that they themselves can cope with the separation as well. First of all, it’s OK to be nervous too! Many parents have been in your shoes. You can seek out advice from others with older children who have already passed this juncture. jitters-4-ready

  On the first day, introduce your child to his or her teacher again and step back to let the child and teacher set the tone and begin their relationship. Your calm demeanor and smile will indicate to your child that you trust their teacher and that your child can too.

  However, if your little one clings to you and cries uncontrollably, you may be allowed to remain in the classroom or at least close by (depending on the school’s policy). If this seems like it will become a daily event, you can try to continually decrease the length of time you’re at the school each morning until he or she can be calmed by the teachers without your help.

  One thing parents should avoid doing is sneaking out! It might seem like a good idea to slip away while the child is not looking, but it can make matters worse. It is important that you say a short and appropriate goodbye and tell children that you’ll see them at the end of the day. Leaving abruptly and secretly without the goodbye may lead the child to believe that you have abandoned him or her, causing even more tears.

  The important thing to remember in all this is to accept that some kids, no matter what the preparation, may still have a hard time during the first days and perhaps week(s) of school. Don’t be discouraged as “this too, shall pass”! Children need time to adjust to a new environment and it is your job to support them, listen to their concerns, and remain positive as they (and you) get comfortable with the new school routine.

By Vicky Li Yip
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  1. August 25th, 2009 at 03:33 | #1

    Greatings, Not sure that this is true:), but thanks for a post.
    Have a nice day

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