School Year

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Back to School: Helping Your Child Cope With Anxiety Reducing Stress

Overcoming Fears for a Successful First Day of School The first day of school for a child, as well as their parent, is a milestone moment, a period in time filled with hope, and great expectations. For many children and parents, this is a time of excitement mixed with some anxiety. Children experiencing these brand new surroundings, for the first time, can find it both exhilarating and stressful.

"Preparing children for their first day of school is incredibly important and should never be taken lightly," said E. Douglas Varney, commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. "Well in advance of that first day, parents should plan out a schedule to ready their new student for the first day and beyond. I'm sure we can all reflect back on the experience ourselves and remember how intimidating first days of school can be."

There are many firsts in starting school:

• Being away from home

• Riding on the bus

• Meeting other children

• How to dress, preparation

• Interacting with the teacher

• Following the rules

"Something as simple as not having the correct school supplies can completely alter a child's first school experience," Varney said. "The more parents can do to plan and anticipate, and to create a strong foundation for learning and socializing, the greater the likelihood that school time will be something they look forward to throughout their life."

School counselors, school social workers and other student support professionals highly recommend that parents develop a plan the earlier the better to acclimate to that first day of school and beyond. Children who are used to a regular routine, or who frequently display apprehension when it comes to new experiences will need additional time and attention to get comfortable.

"Children in many ways are a lot like adults when it comes to starting a new routine. The first day of school, much like starting a new job, is going to increase levels of apprehension and anxiety. A great remedy for this is talking about it in advance," Varney said. "Some youngsters will withdraw, while others may act up and become defiant. In either case, your best defense is to prepare and guide your child and address every concern they have along the way."

Ways to minimize anxiety and trauma:

• Talk about the first day, role play to reduce anxiety

• Visit the school, meet the teacher, a fellow classmate

• Share your own first day of school experience

Many school systems in Tennessee now provide helpful information online for parents — everything from school supplies, guidelines on what to wear, bus routes, lunch and more. Take full advantage of available resources to ensure there will be no surprises.

"That first day of school is a milestone in a child's life and development, so you want it to be a memory that you all can cherish," Varney said. "Get the whole family involved — parents, siblings and extended relatives. Children need a strong support system to encourage them and affirm their accomplishments from an early age. Children need to be ready socially and emotionally to achieve academic success."

—TDMHSAS