Tips for Helping Children Be Less Anxious About Starting School

Tips for Helping Children Be Less Anxious About Starting School

School starts this week here in Oregon and that means a whole new group of kindergarteners will be walking up to the doors of “big school”. This can be an anxious time for children, especially if it is their first time in a school environment. Tears and tantrums can lead to a rocky start of school. Here are some tips for helping the transition go smoothly:

Start talking about the first day of school and what to expect before school begins. Children (and adults) do better when they know what is coming and what to do. So, talk about what is likely to happen on the first day of school. This may sound something like “You and I will walk to your new classroom, and we will meet your teacher, Mrs. Brown. Then you will put your backpack in your cubby and we will find your seat at one of the tables. It will be fun to find out where you are sitting!” Many schools have Open Houses especially for kindergarteners before the first day of school so that they can see their new classrooms and get familiar with the school. This can be a great time to look around and pick out details that you can talk about later, like “Remember when we visited your new class? I really liked the birds that Mrs. Brown had on the door. Which one did you like the best?” This will reassure your child that you know about what she is doing during the day. It can also help start conversations about what she did at school later.

Read about it. There are lots of great books about starting school and what happens at school. Here are some good lists of books from teachers and parents. Reading about school will help your child know what to expect and let him know that he is not alone. Lots of other children go to school (or even worry about going to school) and do just fine. There are also some good books about missing parents and home and what to do, like “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn.

Develop a goodbye routine. You might have a special hug or a signal that you give your child as she is leaving, maybe a thumbs up. This regular start to her day can help her to feel ready to go. For children who are really anxious about separation, you can give them a small token that they can carry in their pocket or wear. One mother gave her son one of her rings to carry with him in his pocket. Just make sure that what you give your child is not something you would be distressed about if he lost and not something that will be distracting to him or the other children. You can also have coming home routines that your child can look forward to at the end of the school day. For example, you could have a special handshake that you give him when he gets off the bus.

Make sure that your child can open backpacks, lunch boxes, and other containers. This might sound like a funny thing to think about but your child may be one of many in a lunch room and if she can’t open her sandwich box, she might not get the chance to have lunch. You can practice opening things at home. If it is really difficult for your child, consider getting other containers or loosening tops if you can.

Starting school is a big transition. It can also be very exciting as children make new friends, learn new skills, and become more independent. Stay positive about the changes with your child, even when she is worried. Before long, your child will transform from a new kindergartener to a “pro” at school!

Image: © Rmarmion |


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Katherine Pears
Dr. Katherine Pears is a senior scientist at Oregon Social Learning Center (OSLC). She earned her Ph.D in clinical psychology and has worked with OSLC since 1998. Katherine is the principal investigator and co-developer of the Kids In Transition to Schools (KITS) program. Currently, she oversees all the clinical and research activities for KITS. When she’s not in her office, you’ll find Katherine in the kitchen whipping up her latest creation or outdoors hiking a scenic trail.


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