How to Emotionally Prepare Young Kids for the Beginning of the School Year

Parents need to lay off telling kids not to worry about going back to school. It’s totally normal.

For grade school kids, the end of summer and start of the school year is an exciting but stressful time. For every known–the school, the reading list, the smell of freshly sharpened pencils–there is an unknown–the teacher, the new kid, the schedule. Worry is natural and fine but, when catalyzed by parental pressure to demonstrate enthusiasm, it can turn to harmful, isolating stress or even dread. Better managed by empathetic parents, back-to-school anxiety can be understood as an obstacle to be surmounted and, with a bit of a push, overcome.

“We have to be careful about not putting too much pressure on them, because that can make them more anxious” says Dr. Mary Alvord, author of Conquer Negative Thinking for Teens and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at George Washington University. She suggests that treating concerns as legitimate and understandable, which they mostly are, goes a long way toward normalization and facilitates a more helpful conversation. That talk can be guided one strategic question at a time: “What are you looking forward to? What friends do you have who might be in your class? What do you like to do at recess?”

With the right cues, kids can be pushed to…

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