Mother with son holding backpack A new school year can be an exciting time for kids, but it can also cause anxiety. The transition from the freedom of summer to the structure of school can be hard, but there are plenty of ways parents and caregivers can ease the way.

“Kids often get anxious about transitions in general, and back to school is one of the bigger transitions kids will face throughout the year,” says Scott C. Tomaine, DO, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) Primary Care, Flourtown.

Visit the school

Walk through the building together and find your child’s new classroom. If the teacher is there, introduce yourself. “I tell parents schools are open throughout the summer,” Dr. Tomaine says.

If the school is new to your child, do a dry run. Walk or drive the route to school with your child. Play on the playground and explore the building. Show your child the restrooms, the gym, the cafeteria and other areas of the school where your child will spend time.

Rehearse the day

It’s comforting for children to be able to visualize something before it happens. Whether or not you’re able to visit the school building, walk your child through the first day of school. You might say, “We’ll wake up at 7:30 in the morning and eat breakfast. You’ll put on the outfit you picked out. Then, at 8:30, I’ll walk you to the bus stop and you’ll get on the bus where you’ll see your friends. Your teacher will be waiting for you at school. Do you remember meeting her in June?” Discuss what time your child will have lunch and whether to pack or buy the meal. Encourage your child to ask questions about what might happen and answer as best you can.

“It’s always good to talk about transitions ahead of time so your child is thinking about it and nothing comes as too much of a shock to them,” says Dr. Tomaine.

Focus on the positive

Revisit happy memories and accomplishments from the year before. Remind your child of the first-day jitters they had last year and how quickly they faded. Talk about the school friends your child will see again. Let your child know of any special projects their class will be involved in and talk about the enjoyable projects and events from the year before.

Transitioning to middle school

Kids moving from elementary to middle school tend to worry about changing classrooms, keeping up with schoolwork, and fitting in socially. Be sure your child attends the middle school orientation, if one is offered. Parents can also help by talking with their children about their concerns.  

Find out what’s on your child’s mind

You can dispel your child’s fears if you know what they are. If your child is afraid of being late for classes, remind them that teachers leave enough time for students to get from one room to another. If they’re afraid none of their friends will be in their classes, talk about the times in the past when they didn’t know anybody, but made new friends.

Role play

Rehearse different scenarios that are causing your child anxiety — finding someone to sit with at lunch, for example, or organizing materials between classes.

Talk about new opportunities

Middle school probably offers more sports, clubs and other activities than were available in elementary school. Talk with your child about which ones seem fun and interesting. Suggest your child find out which activities friends plan to get involved with.

Transitioning to high school

The move to high school in some ways mirrors the transition from elementary to middle school. Kids may be grappling with fears about starting at the bottom of the ladder again, getting around in a new building, and managing higher-level coursework.

Handle this the way you did past school transitions. Ask your teenager to talk about concerns and bring up what helped to settle into middle school.

If your teenager is worried about not being able to keep up with schoolwork, Dr. Tomaine suggests acknowledging that high school will be harder than middle school and emphasizing times in the past when your teenager overcame a challenge through hard work — learning a difficult piano piece, for example, or getting better at soccer.

“Try not to minimize your teenager’s feelings. Have an honest and open discussion about how they are feeling, and why. Remind them that when they work hard and try their best, things almost always work out well. Any time your teen is worried is a good opportunity to tell them that you will always be there for them if they need you, and a great time to tell them how much you love them!” Dr. Tomaine says.

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