Q: Now that school has started, I keep expecting my daughter to slowly ease her way into her routine and classes. Unfortunately, she just doesn’t seem to be comfortable in her classroom or with her friends. My other children just took some time, but eventually were fine. With this daughter, it almost seems like we start from day one, everyday. What do you suggest to help her adjust to school?
A: First, let me preface this answer by saying that it is completely normal for children to have trouble adjusting to a new classroom and new teachers. We ourselves might find it difficult when put in new social or professional situations. That being said, after a few weeks, this anxiety should subside and your child should begin to feel comfortable in her new environment.
There are, however, several ways that you can help ease the transition into the new school year:
- Create a connection with another student. Your daughter will feel more secure if she has one child in the classroom with whom she feels a special connection. Ask your daughter who she is spending time with in school and then invite the child over for a play date. If you aren’t sure that she will enjoy a full play date, suggest going for pizza after school with that girl and her mother and even inviting the whole family over for a Shabbos meal. Within minutes, your daughter will be happily playing with her friend. Then, when she enters the classroom, she will have a mini-support system.
- Pay attention to her anxiety. Ask your daughter what the cause of her anxiety is – social, academic, or separation from you. If the cause is social, you already are working to fix that by helping her bond with another student. If the stress is academic, perhaps it is a good idea to speak to the teacher. Your daughter might need remediation or special attention. Lastly, in the chance that she is having trouble separating from you, reassure her that, “Mommy always comes back.” With these words in her mind, she will feel more settled and comfortable in the classroom.
- Get to school early for pick-up. If your daughter is anxious about being in school, she will be watching the door (or the carpool line) for you to show up. If you are late, her anxiety will always rise. Therefore, coming a few minutes early to ensure that she can see you immediately will reinforce the idea that school is a safe, but temporary place for her.
- Ensure she gets enough sleep. When children need to be woken in the morning, it means that they are not getting enough sleep. It also means that morning routines can get rushed and harried. In turn, these children will not have enough energy reserves to deal with goodbyes or potentially stressful classroom situations. Start bedtime early by having your daughter read in bed – you will get the bonus of improved reading along with a well-rested child.
The above suggestions should help if your daughter experiences mild anxiety when dealing with school. But, if she is extremely resistant, kicks and screams before school, and shows signs of generalized panic, I would look into the possibility that she has school phobia. What’s school phobia? That’s a topic for a whole other column!