School Anxiety: How to Tackle Kindergarten Nerves

August 24, 2016

KindergartenHeading off to school can be a stressful experience for both children and parents – especially so when it’s the very first time. With a little preparation, families can have a smooth transition into the school year, says Jennifer Freeman, PhD, director of research and training at the Pediatric Anxiety Research Center at Bradley Hospital. Freeman recently offered tips for families on handling kindergarten jitters.

Why do so many children get nervous about going to school?  

Entering kindergarten is a huge transition for kids. It means separation from their parents as well as a big change in routine. It’s something they’ve never had to do before and it can be a very jarring experience. For many kids, it’s one of the first times they’ll encounter peer issues such as figuring out how to make friends or how to handle teasing.

What can parents do to help their children?  

Practicing ahead of time can help a lot. Start getting into the school routine a week or so ahead of time. Get up and get ready as if it were a school day. If offered by your school, go to school and meet your teachers in advance, or ride on the bus for a trial run. Set up play dates or visits to relatives’ houses to practice being away from mom and dad all day.

Jennifer Freeman, PhD

What if the parent is the anxious one?  

Parents need to remember that anxiety is normal and it’s ok for kids to be scared. It’s normal for parents to be anxious too. Parents need to be able to remind kids that it’s OK to have these feelings, rather than simply saying ‘don’t worry’ to kids. Acknowledge their feelings and help them through it. It’s like helping a child learn to walk. They will fall down and get a bump and that’s ok – it’s a part of learning. A parent does not want to be so anxious themselves that they allow kids to avoid things that scare them, because that will make it worse.

How can parents tell if their children’s anxiety is normal, or possibly a larger problem?  

A child may cry when a parent gently, but firmly sends them into school – and that’s normal. But, if you encounter a child who absolutely refuses to enter school, or is getting physically ill around their anxieties, it may be time to seek help. If you are concerned that your child may have a problem with anxiety, our Kids Link hotline is always available at 1-855-KID LINK or Bradley Hospital.