The first day of school holds a special place in the memories of families everywhere. For parents, it a potent symbol of a child growing up and moving towards a new stage of life. For a child, it’s often the first set of friends and memories that they’ll make.
But first day jitters are common for kids when facing a new school year. The first day can be a huge source of stress for kids, and parents have a lot of difficulty helping their kids transition smoothly from being home a lot of the time to going to school.
But what are these jitters, exactly? And how can we make the transition into something new a bit smoother for kids?
Read on to learn how you can help your child enter their new classroom with confidence.
What Are First Day Jitters?
Kids will understandably feel very nervous about going in for their first day of school, no matter what the age. But the jitters are strongest with very young children going into their first day of class ever, such as when going into the first grade or kindergarten. The experience of first day jitters for new first graders or kindergarteners is shared by kids all across the world.
Anxiety that kids experience when starting school results from fear of the unknown. They are scared about meeting a whole new group of kids, a new teacher and a new environment. Many miss their parents and their home, to which they’ve become accustomed.
While children may be comforted with assurances that they will meet a friendly new teacher and make new friends, this is often not enough to placate them. Because children have a hard time envisioning the future, if they haven’t yet been exposed to the situation, they tend to be fearful despite verbal soothing. Early in the school year, teachers deal with many children who miss their parents, have a fear of riding the school bus, and are scared about meeting and making friends with the other kids.
Crying is the most obvious sign of first day jitters. Other signs include anxious behaviors (like nail-biting), frequent absences, and visits to the school nurse. Most children adjust naturally, but one-sixth of children face adjustment problems.
Adults experience similar apprehension when they experience new places, people, and situations. Although they may not react as dramatically as children do, they can feel stressed out about starting a new job and meeting their new co-workers, and might turn to drinking, smoking, or overeating to calm their nerves.
They also may be afflicted with first day jitters when they need to transition their kids into kindergarten. The prospect of leaving their kids in a new environment without them for the first time can be nerve-racking.
What can be done to facilitate transitions into new situations for both adults and children?
4 Ways to Help Children With First Day Jitters
Teachers think of children as adjusted to the classroom once they are able to work in a large group without relying on the teacher to guide them, and taking direction from adults who are not family members. A child who has issues adjusting is typically unable to follow directions, struggles academically, and finds difficulty working independently and as part of a group. How can we help kids overcome these hurdles?
1. Acclimatize Kids to the New Environment
To help kids avoid first day jitters, the easiest step to take is to get kids into situations similar to the one they are about to face. For example, have kids go to shorter day programs or group activities along with parents to help acclimatize kids to environments outside the home. When possible, it’s ideal to place children into a preschool environment for at least a few hours a week. Kids with more preschool experience have fewer adjustments issues than those who were completely at home.
Inquire with the school whether they have school orientation sessions or events where the child can interact with their future teacher. Establishing a link early on will help remove the fear that children have of meeting someone they don’t know and put a face to the mystical “teacher” who is about to become their main point of contact during the day.
Many schools encourage parents to bring their kids to the classroom and school library before the first day starts so that they can learn what it looks like and start to get comfortable. Having the child take a look at a school bus prior to riding it can have similar positive effects. Small gifts to children, such as stickers and colourful markers, can help in redirecting a child’s apprehension into excitement about using new tools.
2. Work With Teachers
Often, parents only know part of the story: Teachers can help parents identify places where their children need extra support that parents may be unaware of. Establish open lines of communication between parents and teachers.
Work with teachers to create individualized plans and tactics to help the child overcome their first day jitters. For example, you can ask a child a list of things they’d like to do on their first day and have the teacher help complete a child’s wish list. This builds trust between the teachers and children.
3. Teach Kids About First Day Jitters With Books
There are also many back-to-school books about first day jitters which can be used to help teach kids about what is to come and how to deal with their emotions. Here are a few great children’s books that parents and teachers can use to help kids understand constructive ways of dealing with first day jitters:
“First Day Jitters (Mrs. Hartwell’s Classroom Adventures)” by Julie Danneberg and illustrated by Judy Love:
This is a book about Sarah Jane Hartwell, who doesn’t want to get out of bed to go to the first day of school. Sarah’s father, Mr. Hartwell, finally convinces her to get up and begin the day.
After Sarah arrives at school, the reader finds out that Sarah is actually the teacher. It’s a surprise ending which is kept cleverly hidden throughout the book with illustrations which obscure Sarah’s face. There’s also a little subplot involving the family cat.
This book is a great way to help kids see their teacher as a person with similar feelings to them when beginning the school year.
“Will I Have a Friend?” by Miriam Cohen and illustrated by Lilian Hoben:
This great book is about a little boy named Jim who is going to a new school. On his walk there he asks his dad if he will have a friend there, who replies assuring him he’ll find one. Jim goes through the whole day trying to find a friend with no luck…until Paul approaches. They talk about cars and become friends. On Jim’s walk home from school he tells his dad that he’s found a friend.
The book is a simple, sweet story teaching children that it may take a bit of time to find a friend, but that things are sure to work out in the end. The story is made complete with wonderful ink-and-watercolor illustrations.
“The Night Before Kindergarten” by Natasha Wing and illustrated by Julie Durrell:
This picture book presents all parts of a child’s transition into a new school with rhymes. It matches the rhyming of “The Night Before Christmas” and is easy to teach children, who will have a good laugh out of repurposing this rhyme for their own big night.
The rhymes can be memorized and said aloud during the various steps of a child’s first day (like gathering school supplies and saying bye to parents). Its lighthearted tone is perfect for those kids who have dark expectations about their first day at school.
4. Keep Parents’ Emotions In Check
It’s hard for many parents to watch their children grow up, or can be frustrating for them to see a child fail to adjust. Displaying exasperation or stress in front of children will only exacerbate their first day jitters. Learning to control one’s anxiety and emotion during a child’s first day is helpful.
If you’re looking for extra help in doing so, check out Spire. Spire is especially helpful for stressful days when emotions are running high. It watches for signs of stress and sends notifications to your phone to let you know when it’s time to relax and take a break. In this way, the mental load of remembering to stay calm is off your shoulders and you can better assist your child in their transition.
From First Day Jitters to Last-Day Blues
A child going into kindergarten is one of many family reminders that childhood is fleeting and that your little prince or princess won’t stay small forever. It’s a hard time for everyone involved. First day jitters are common expressions of the anxiety and stress that come with change and new transitions. But with a bit of work and care, children (and parents) will quickly adjust and find ways to be happy with the new situation. Before you know it, your child will be complaining that the school year is almost over.