Back to School 101: Calming those 1st-day jitters

It’s back-to-school season. And this week, WTOP News is looking at how kids and parents can prepare for that return to class. The subject of today’s “Back to School 101” class is handling jitters on the first day back.

For the school-age set, August is the month when The Dread sets in — the realization that summer vacation’s carefree days are history. On the near horizon are early mornings, desks and homework, which don’t compare with lazy afternoons, the pool and video games.

It’s enough to make a little one feel a little anxious.

So how can parents help them overcome The Dread? For starters, parents should be mindful that “back to school” means more than just academics, suggests Ann Dolin.

“Parents are thinking, ‘Will my child do well academically this year?’ But kids, they’re really thinking about friends and fitting in,” said Dolin, the founder of Educational Connections Tutoring and the author of “Homework Made Simple.”

It’s why she believes an open house is so important: They can get acclimated with the environment and meet their teachers. They can also get comfortable with the little things.

“If the child has a locker, help them to do their combination at least three times, so they’re completely automatic and they’re a lot less uncomfortable about what that’s going to be like on the first day of school,” Dolin said.

Another thing kids should practice three times: Taking the schedule and walking from class to class, as if they’re going through the whole day.

“That really helps kids to feel a lot less jittery on that first day,” Dolin said, “because they know where they’re going, and they’re confident they can get from class to class in time.”

Getting to that first class of the day can be an iffy proposition, especially for kids who have regularly slept in and are wary of the new routine. Dolin suggests a conversation with them ahead of time, in which it’s established what their schedule will be — and what that means for both bedtime and reveille.

Then — at least a week ahead of time — begin setting the alarm clock back a little bit, day by day. Ideally, when the summer is winding down, they’ll be getting up at almost the same time they need to get up on a school day. This, too, will help them anticipate the new routine.

“That really helps kids get into the groove of starting and feeling well-rested, instead of going into the school year already feeling drained,” she said.

And Dolin notes that it can’t hurt to remind them that jitters about a new year are common. There are several books available about the first day of school that are good for calming nerves.

One book for elementary kids, “School’s First Day of School,” shows that everyone has first-day jitters, “but once you get going it actually turns out to be OK,” she said.

Back to School 101 

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