The first day of school can be scary. Children wonder about how everything will go—“Will my friends still like me?” “Will I fit in?” “Do I look good?” This is normal and usually goes away within a few days. For some kids, though, it doesn’t subside as quickly as parents would hope. For these children, parents may need to provide a little extra support. In general, the types of problems children have with adjusting to the new school year revolve around academic, social, or emotional issues. Here’s a look at each.
Academic problems may stem from the fact that your child is working with a new teacher. Last year’s teacher learned that he needs structure and predictability to pay attention, but does this year’s teacher know that? The expectations may be much greater this year than your child was expecting. For example, he might have forgotten some math skills over the summer, and his new teacher expects that he already knows them well. Some teachers have very active, busy classrooms, but your child works better in a quiet setting. Any one of these might be causing him to dislike going to school. The trick is to figure out what is causing his frustration and talk to his teachers about it.
Social issues may be keeping your child from adjusting to the new year. If she tells you that she doesn’t have any friends, her anxiety is almost certainly rooted in social problems. Children who enjoy being by themselves or with only one friend often do not have the skills to make new friends. Experts agree that children do not need to have a lot of friends to be healthy, but they do need at least one good friend. You can help your child make new friends by role-playing how to talk to someone new. She needs to practice asking questions like “Did you go anywhere during summer vacation?” or “Where did you go to school last year?” Conversation-starters like these can help break the ice.
If your child switched schools, she may be missing her friends from last year. It’s important to let her get together with her old friends, but she should also be making new friends at school.
Emotional issues might keep your child from adjusting to the new school year. He might be more afraid of change than others are. If you know this ahead of time, try to take him to the school to visit before the school year starts. If he is moving from a small building to a large one, he may feel insecure. It can take several weeks to feel comfortable getting to the right place at the right time. His teachers might be able to find a friend who can help him if needed.
It is possible your child’s trouble adjusting to school has nothing to do with school itself. It might be coming from home. Consider whether anything in the household is the source of stress, like a recent move or a new baby. Whatever the cause, the key to a successful year in school is communicating with your child’s teacher. Teachers want to help—so ask why she thinks your child is having trouble adjusting to school, and how to best solve the problem.