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When September approaches, that means schools are opening again. And many kids struggle with back-to-school fears.

Parents can help kids cope with these fears by understanding how to minimize them and deal with them.


Separation from Home and Family

Some children entering school for the first time become anxious at the prospect of being away from familiar surroundings and the comforting presence of mother. If your child seems shy and clings to you around strangers, this may be a problem. There are several things you can do to ease the child's discomfort.

Familiarize your child with the route to school.

During the week or two before school starts, make a few "dry runs."

Point out things of interest along the way.

Include returning home to a hearty greeting in the dry runs.

If getting to school will include a bus ride you can't duplicate, break the process into two parts: one for getting to the bus, the other for bus riding. If your child hasn't ridden on busses, take a few bus rides together and talk about how busses and bus drivers get you safely to where you want to go.

Assure your child that you'll be there if he or she really needs you. And that someone will be waiting when school is over.


Fear "The Teacher Will Be Mean"

Teachers, like everyone else, acquire reputations. Your child may have heard that next year's teacher is stern or cross or strict or mean. Your child may have been dreading the day school opens.

This calls for three kinds of responses:

First and foremost, find out what your son or daughter believes about the teacher in question. And how that belief came about. It may be based on what other children have said. Or your child may have had some previous encounter with that teacher. Make sure your child sees that you understand why he or she is dreading school.

Second, encourage your child to wait and see whether the fears are warranted. Things may turn out to be very different from what is being anticipated. No one knows for sure what will happen in the future.

Third, reassure your child that if the teacher turns out to be really unfair, you'll be there to help smooth things out. Together you will be able to work deal with whatever difficulties occur. Your support can provide your child with confidence to take on -- and subdue -- scary challenges.


Fear "The Other Kids Won't Like Me"

Concern about rejection by other kids is one of the most common back-to-school fears. It can be a bug-a-boo year after year and is especially likely when kids change schools. Blanket reassurances such as, "You'll make lots of friends," don't really help.

Again, the most important task is to make sure your child sees that you understand and accept those gnawing inner feelings your son or daughter is experiencing. Otherwise your child may interpret your attitude as one of indifference or even rejection.

Once your child knows you accept his or her self doubts and uneasiness, help the child learn some new interpersonal skills:

Point out how good he or she tends to feel when someone expresses praise.

Make a game out of finding ways to praise others. Then encourage the child to see that he or she has some of the same qualities; this enables children to learn to see their own positive qualities.

Teach your child to ask other people about themselves. This can also become a fun experience that will help. Make it clear that the aim of the questions is show interest in the other person, and point out that showing interest in another person is a good way to start new friendships.

It also helps to remind your child that he or she has successfully made friends in the past and can do so again. And encourage thinking about the coming year as an adventure into the unknown -- something which will be interesting, exciting and fun.


Fear "Bullies Will Pick on Me"

This is a tricky problem. Many parents tend to rush in to take command and administer justice. Certainly it is important to provide support for your child. But in the long run it will be to your child's benefit if he or she becomes able to deal with such problems without your help.

If your child is hurt, physically or psychologically, tend to those hurts, of course. But also work to stimulate his or her problem-solving skills: Such questions as,

"Can you think of any way you might avoid that bully (or that abuse) in the future?"

Or, "If you had it to do over, how would you like to handle it?"

This indicates you share a desire to avoid abuse, but also that you have confidence in his or her judgement and capacity to learn to cope with difficulties.



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Copyright 1996-2006 William W. Snow



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