How to Calm Your Child's First-Day-of-School Anxiety
Your child may feel “butterflies in his tummy” for the first day of school. It is a normal sensation that first morning of classes or whenever she is expected to perform or speak in front of a group; has a dentist or doctor appointment, or has pressure to do well on a test or at a sports competition. Parents can help kids calm the butterflies.
Model calming behavior for your nervous kids
As a parent, watching your child battle nerves can be difficult and cause the parent to feel anxious and worried too. The child may grow more panicked because of this. Model calming behavior to your child. Speak in a calm voice, try not to rush him, and keep your chitchat positive and encouraging.
Prepare and discuss
Prior to the big day, discuss with your child what she can expect. “We spend time talking about the event a few days before. I allow them to ask questions and understand what to expect throughout the process,” says Lauren Heller, mother of twins. This is a great opportunity to discuss with your child what his worries are specifically and help him work through them in a healthy way.
Try relaxation techniques
If you find your child is often nervous, sit down ahead of time and discuss some relaxation techniques that will be helpful in calming butterflies when they arise. “I taught my daughter to take slow deep breaths and to pretend she was somewhere else,” says Krystal Laws, mother of seven. Some other relaxation techniques include stretching, reading a book, sipping a favorite drink, listening to music, or talking to a friend. Many kids find physical activity relaxing. Encourage your child to take a short walk or jog, do jumping jacks, shoot hoops or play on the swings. This will help your child release some nervous energy. Once she has found a relaxation technique that works, she will have a tool in her back pocket when nerves arise.
Visualize and problem solve
If your child is nervous about an upcoming recital, performance or game, have him sit still, close his eyes, and visualize each step of the upcoming event and how it will go. Picture a positive outcome with everything going smoothly. During the visualization process, address any obstacles your child may foresee. “Before an ice-skating performance we consider what would happen if she fell — just get back up, no big deal,” says Jane Hammond, mom of three. Problem solve with your child how you can overcome the challenges she may be worrying about. For younger kids, acting out the situation that is making them nervous can be very helpful. “Our boys used to have a really hard time with doctor appointments. We bought a doctor set and ‘played doctor’ while talking about what to expect. They love going now,” says Becky Asher, mom to triplet boys.
As the big day approaches, set your child up for success with a good night’s rest and a healthy diet. This will help her feel she is at her best when the butterflies arrive. Explain to your child that even adults get nervous about situations and this is normal. Children tend to feel more secure in new situations when they know they have your support and understanding along the way.
Sarah Lyons is a freelance writer.