Overcoming First-Day Jitters
How to help your child through the first day of school.
Helping kids deal with their anxieties very often involves helping them challenge negative thinking, says Jerilynn Ross, MA, LCSW, president and CEO of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, and director of the Ross Center for Anxiety Disorders in Washington. She is also the author of the book, Triumph Over Fear.
Find out why your child is fearful, then work at reassurance, she tells WebMD. "A lot of times, children don't really know what the problem is -- until you ask enough questions. Then they'll tell you something -- they're scared mom won't be there when they get out of school, scared to walk home, afraid kids will make fun of them.
"For most kids, the first day is anxiety provoking," Ross says. "They will act out, will cry. Most kids by the second day are OK."
However, "if a couple of weeks pass, and the kid is refusing to go at all -- or coming home every day with stomachaches, headaches -- or is at the school nurse's office wanting to go home -- then you need to do something," she says. It could be signs of an emotional problem.
She recommends talking to a pediatrician or to a mental health professional. "Sometimes we find out that there's a bully in class or that the teacher yelled at him and no one else," says Ross. "If there seems to be no known cause -- but the child is having nightmares and not sleeping -- that could be sign of anxiety disorder, if it's really interfering with normal functioning."
And what if there is a bully in class? What should you and your child do?
"Most kids aren't going to tell their parents they're being bullied -- not unless a good line of communication has been set up at an early age," says Elizabeth Carll, PhD, a family psychologist in Long Island, N.Y. She is the author of the book, Violence in Our Lives.
"Let kids know that if something is happening at school, something they're uncomfortable with, that they can tell you," Carll says. If there is a bully, try not to get upset. "At that point, your child sees himself as weak and victimized. He's afraid you wonder how he let it happen."
Then, take action and report the bullying to the school. "It's important to go to the school and tell them that kind of behavior won't be tolerated," she says. "A school needs to have a policy in place and will only do it when people come forward. That's the only way bullying will stop."