Since we PCSed (moved) to Fort Bliss, TX earlier this year, Whitney’s been ecstatic about starting pre-kindergarten. Each time we drove past her school she’d exclaim, “That’s my school!” For weeks she’d ask when school starts and would grab her backpack and ‘play school’ at home with little sister. Although this would be the first regular, structured care away from home, I wasn't the least bit worried about her starting school.Me, “Whitney, you start school in two days! Are you excited?”Youngin’, “Mommy, I don’t want to go to school.”Me, totally flabbergasted, “Why?! You’ve been looking forward to it all summer!”Youngin’, “I don’t want to. I’m too scared.”
The Saturday prior to that first day, however, it became obvious to me she was having back-to-school anxiety. She loves playing with other kids and is very friendly to everyone she meets. As a child being raised in the military, she’s always meeting new people and visiting new places. It was very uncharacteristic of her to feel anxious.
She was having other classic symptoms of going-to-school jitters, too.
- Extreme outbursts
- Defying authority
- Exaggerated fears of monsters in her bedroom
She experienced all of these traces of anxiety during the week before school. So then I started to panic. Her potentially being fearful of school was not on my radar and I didn't know how to react.
I began feeling as though the rug got yanked from beneath me. How do I proceed? How was the first day going to go? How do I build up her confidence? I did not anticipate this and it left me crying to Brandon because all along I thought she had a personality of jet airliner - ready for take-off at any moment. I was wrong. My baby was scared to go to school.
Brandon and I knew we needed to surround her with love and excitement. We began telling her what she could expect in hopes of melting away her fear. We painted a pretty picture of playtime, reading rugs, art projects, and recess. We clearly defined how the first day was going to go to the best of our knowledge; Brandon and I would drive her to school, see her off with the class, and I would be there right when school ended. We also talked about the teacher’s role - he will tell her when it’s time to do certain activities and when activities will end. Basically, we eliminated as many “unknowns” as we could to help ease her into a new routine.
Here are some other ways to overcome those back-to-school jitters:
- Allow them to talk about their fears.
- Try role playing. If your child is afraid of riding the bus, pretend you’re on a crazy, fun adventure on the bus off to school.
- Tell the child that other kids will feel new, too (s/he’s not alone.)
- Talk about a time when you, the parent, were scared in school and how you overcame that fear.
- Teach them to problem solve the situation. Ask questions that will get them thinking of a solution. For example, if a child is afraid of doing math you might ask, “What would be helpful to you when you are doing math in school?”
I think our little parent-daughter talk hit home, because on Monday morning, she awoke with such excitement she couldn't wait to get out the door. And my, was that first day magical. Over a Happy Meal lunch she gabbed to me about making a Badge of Bravery, cooking up meals for the class in the play kitchen, and described the class pet – a school of gold fish.
That night after the girls were snuggled into bed, Brandon and I reminisced about that first day. He turned to me and said, “Did you see the girls hug and kiss each other goodbye? Did you see them give each other hearts?” Me, “I know! That was so cute!” This went on for an hour – just him and I recapping how crazy awesome it is to have our first born baby in school. And just for the record, we were those parents who came equipped with a video camera, DSLR camera, and iPhone cameras. Good thing I can still get away with being that obnoxious mama.