First-day nerves

Children naturally worry about going back to school. Parents do, too. There is something about the unknown, even if it's just a new grade in the same school. (Image Source)

When my son Eli started first grade last year, he was anxious about the things that most kids fear. What if he didn't like his teacher? Or something was really hard? Or none of his friends were in his class?

The last one was his worst-case-scenario: no friends. To ease his worries, I called a few other parents. To Eli's disappointment and mine a little, too it seemed as though none of his friends from kindergarten would be in his class that year.

I knew that in the real worst-case scenario, he would make friends with whomever was in his class; Eli has the ability to be friends with everyone. Still, I didn't want him to worry. Ever the optimist, I told him a little story.

"I'll bet that right now there is a kid who has just moved here. He is sitting at home, just like you, worrying that he will not have any friends."

This seemed to ease his worries, at least a little bit, and on Meet-the-Teacher Night my prediction came true. Like magic, a little girl entered the classroom. She was new, had just moved to Fort Worth, Texas, from another state and was worried about making friends.

Heroically, Eli took her by the hand and gave her a tour of the classroom, despite the fact that first grade was new to him, too. The pair instantly hit it off and have become good friends.

Children naturally worry about going back to school. Parents do, too. There is something about the unknown, even if it's just a new grade in the same school, that bothers just about every child.

We talked with Lisa M. Elliott, a licensed psychologist and clinic manager at Cook Children's Medical Center; Cynthia Bethany, a licensed clinical social worker and critical incident specialist for the Fort Worth school district; and Kathryn Everest, the director of guidance and counseling for the Fort Worth school district, about how parents can help ease their students' back-to-school nerves.

1. "Be sure to attend any type of school orientation day," says Elliott. Most schools offer a meet-the-teacher night so that students can acclimate themselves to the new environment.

Spend some time talking to the teacher and familiarizing yourself with the new classroom. This will also give your child a chance to see who will be in her class.

"If you are concerned that your child does not feel comfortable with their new teacher, be sure to speak to your child's teacher in the first few weeks to help facilitate a closer relationship," Elliott suggests.

2. Ease into your new routine, starting a few weeks before the first day. Summer is often more laid-back, but the school year should have a set schedule.

"Start getting a good night's sleep," recommends Bethany.

Slowly get back into an earlier bedtime with less television and video game play. Rather than making a big change all at once, move bedtime a few minutes earlier each night.

Elliot also recommends going a step further: "Help your child prepare mentally for school by reading more, practice math facts and engage in other fun academic-related games."

3. "Talk about what to expect," recommends Bethany. The social and environmental challenges are often more daunting than the academic ones.

Older kids will have more responsibilities, but make sure you have reasonable expectations as a parent. Tell your child about your own experiences in school. No matter how old you are, your child will find your stories fascinatingly "old-fashioned."

Ask your child to tell you what he enjoyed best about the previous year and give him the chance to reminisce.

4. Listening to your child's fears is important, says Everest. No matter what your child is worrying about, take the time to stop and listen to him. Rather than telling him not to worry, assure him that his fears are valid.