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The Start of School Can Be a Nightmare

by Devra Renner and Aviva Pflock


Devra Renner and Aviva Pflock

Devra Renner and Aviva Pflock are the founders of Parentopia.com and co-authors of Mommy Guilt: Learn to Worry Less, Focus on What Matters Most, and Raise Happier Kids. Read more »

It's 11:00 at night. The start of school is in the morning. Just a few hours away. But instead of sleep, there is the tossing and the turning. The back-to-school jitters have hit full force. Is the lunch box packed? What if the teacher is mean? If the bus is late, what happens then? Where is the big pink eraser? Is thumb sucking allowed at nap time? What happens if I start to cry when I get to the classroom?

These aren't a child's thoughts we're describing here--they're a mom's or a dad's. We know parents have their own way of losing sleep before the start of school just like kids. Some of what parents worry about is real, but, like imaginary monsters under the bed, these sorts of nightmares aren't as scary if you shine a bit of light on them and face your worst fears. Here are a few of the more common nightmares parents have shared with us:

The nightmare of school supplies: Child arrives at school and discovers he or she doesn't have all of the school supplies. Guess what? This really does happen and it's really not a big deal. If your child comes home and freaks out about the missing supplies, offer reassurance that it's only human to forget and teachers expect to encounter students who may not have all of their supplies on the first day either. Normalize it. No need to leave work or abandon your errands to race back to the school and drop off a plain manila folder. Pick it up when you can and send it back to school with your child when you have it.

The nightmare of missing the school bus or waiting for the child who never appears at your front door: You may find your child gets dropped off at the wrong bus stop or accidentally gets on the wrong bus. It's also possible your child walked home with a friend, spent more time talking and lost track of time. These things happen. Schools have a policy for it. Very rarely do children in New York get on their school bus in the morning, go to school for the day, and take an afternoon bus ride home to California. If you are really concerned about it, call the school and inquire about their policy. You won't be the first person who has ever asked about it, so if it makes you feel better to know, ask. Establish rules for your walker such as calling and letting you know if they are staying later or going to a friend's house.

The nightmare of the starving child with no lunch: The lunch bell rings and a teary eyed child cries out, "I can't find my lunch box. I don't have any lunch." Schools don't want a hungry, grouchy kid in school any more than you want your child to be hungry and grouchy. Schools have extra lunches; they have extra funds for just such a situation.

What nightmares are keeping you up? Your lost kindergartner wandering the halls? Sending your first grader to school without a raincoat? Your pre-schooler not making friends? Whatever your fears may be, we're here to help you muster the courage to flip on a hall light, look behind the closet doors and banish the back-to-school boogie monster so you can get some rest before that alarm clock sounds in the morning.


Comments

Jackie writes...

My child is going into kindergarten, and my fears are running more along the lines of "my poor sweet baby is going to have his feelings hurt and come home jaded and different." He is a sweet, sensitive boy (think "tin man" from Wizard of Oz) who considers every kid to be a friend he just hasn't met yet. I am afraid the kids on the bus will tell him there is no santa and that he will have a tough time with mean kids. You get the idea.

Aviva? writes...

Jackie - Funny, you get the same answer Jeannine got, just on a different level. Like 6th graders in middle school, kindergarten kids are often kept separate from the rest of the students so they can adapt. Sure, they will be on the bus, in the lunch room and at recess with older kids who will open their eyes to new things in the world but that is what we call growing up. Your influence will continue to be your child's primary source as long as you want to keep it that way. Be there to help him grow and learn - that's how we grow as parents too.

Heather writes...

My unfounded worry is that the mysterious "supplies list" has not yet arrived from the school. I'm somehow worried that I'll miss all the best sales and have the one kid who gets to school with nothing in tow but her packpack. That and we still have no info on the bus route or pick-up/drop-off schedule. Can you tell we're just doing kindy for the first time?

Aviva? writes...

Heather - welcome to school! No need to wait for the answers to come to you - head on in there and start asking questions. As a teacher, it is easy to forget some parents are new to this whole school thing. You will not be shamed for not knowing what to do and will probably be cheered on by other parents who have lots of the same questions you do. The teachers will certainly appreciate your desire to be involved and seek out information. So, raise your hand and ask away. In doing so, you will also be setting a great example for your child to do the same.

Jeannine writes...

My 11 yr. old daughter is entering Middle School as a 6th grader. Nervous about her being around kids older and more advanced -- if you know what I mean. Can't I keep her innocent a while longer or am I dreaming?

Aviva? writes...

Jeannine - Most middle schools are pretty good about keeping 6th graders separated from the "older" kids - quite frankly, the administration would prefer to give these new comers a chance to adapt to their environment. The transition from elementary to middle school is huge. Not only are academic expectations different, social settings are totally, completely foreign to most 6th graders. Yes, your child will be introduced to many new things; however, your personal interaction will help guide her along her way. Be there to answer questions and assist with the rough spots (even when it seems you are being pushed away). Just because it may be true that more day time hours are spent with school peers than with parents, it is also true that parents are still the greatest influence on kids.

Janet writes...

My son is changing schools. In New York, some schools still keep 6th graders in the Elementary school. This is the case with his previous school. We are moving to Colorado, and his peers have already been in MS for a year. How do I help him handle the new homework load and locker trouble(etc)while he adjusts to a whole new school and set of friends!! (I think I'm more nervous than he is, but his outbursts are telling me otherwise.) :/

Devra? writes...

Hi Janet,

There is a reason moving is listed among the top ten most stressful things a human being can do. It is stressful! If you are identifying that you are more nervous than your son, my first thought would be to try to step outside of yourself and see if you need to keep your own anxiety in check. Kids are much like the horses you will encounter in Colorado, they sense how the people around them feel. Listen and reflect your son's feelings and try not to comb over what he may be feeling or infuse your own nervousness into your son. Examples of each are phrases like " Don't worry, it's going to be fine." or "You don't need to think about that." or "I bet you are worried about the new school and leaving your friends." Instead consider open ended inquiry, and observations that normalize what's going on. Examples of those are "Moving is stressful. Things may be tense around here for a while until everyone settles in to the new place." or "Even if I seem busy, if you need to talk about any of what's going on, let's talk." or "Would you like me to help collect the addresses and phone numbers of your friends here? Are there pictures of places you would like to have before we move?" And if you have plans to visit New York again, let your son know visits will happen in the future. As for the new school and locker trouble, unless you accompanied him to school and figured out those issues when you lived in NY, leave it to your son and school to handle in Colorado. You'll know if he needs help. Let the school know you have concerns, they will work with you to make your son's transition smooth. While I am a native New Yorker, my mother is from Colorado. I can tell you, as can Aviva who now lives in Colorado, the West is fairly laid back in comparison to NY. We're confident your son will make new friends and get his homework done too! If you have more concerns, feel free to email us.

Kristen writes...

Ok, I'll confess. I'm worried when I drop mine off at preschool that people will look at me oddly when I high-five myself leaving the school. Am I the only person who won't be teary-eyed and long for the moment that I get to pick them up? Summer is a very long time with preschoolers.

Devra? writes...

I don't think you will be the only one skipping the Kleenex and instead kicking your heels together. There are quite a few parents, as well as PTO's, who host "Tears and Cheers" themed breakfasts and coffee get togethers sometimes during the first week of the new school year.

So high five your heart out. You may be surprised that another parent sticks up their hand to high five you back in the parking lot!


Aviva? writes...

Summer is a very long time with any age child. I know of a group of moms who get together the start of every school year for a back to school celebratory breakfast. You are most definitely not alone!

Tracie writes...

I am up at night thinking about my African-American son learning to get "socialized" in the new school year. He is entering 2nd grade at a charter school that requires us to travel a bit but it is rumored to be good. He will probably be the only new child in a clas of children that have been together since pre-k/k. My son was was homeschooled for kindergarten and first grade because we did not get picked for the charter school lotteries. I was unwilling to send him to his poorly rated zoned school in our neighborhood which is urban, overcrowded and often mean. I am the daughter of mid-west educators and I know what a good elementary school looks and feels like. Even though my son has been active in afterschool programs (where I am a leader) I am concerned that he is not prepared for the meanness of other children. He is oh so sweet and truly a 6 year old. Our beliefs are in playing fair, being kind and respectful of others... I often see other adults and teachers who are not rearing children to be sensitive to others. I remember that schooling can be painful and while I don't want to be hyperviligant I do want to be wise and aware. My son is just a boy that wants to have fun!

Devra? writes...

Kids seem to have an inner compass when it comes to figuring out if someone else is heading in a "mean" direction. My guess is your son may tell you if there are any problems once he starts school, however, it's okay for you to mention privately to his teacher you have concerns about his adjustment. Let the teacher hear from you your concern as to how he will be accepted by the other students. Sharing information with the teacher which may be helpful for him/her to know makes a lot of sense. It also might make you feel more comfortable once you and the teacher have discussed a possible plan for making your son's transition to the new school and class a success.

Aviva? writes...

It sounds like you are raising him in a wonderful caring environment and as the plaque on my wall clearly states, "Children Learn What They Live." Stay involved in your child's education and he is sure to thrive. The key is to stay tuned in and be a part of his life. In doing so, you will see if running into major problems which may require your intervention. Chances are pretty good though, he will only have to deal with the usual kid stuff of growing up. These encounters with your support will help him grow into the confident young man you want him to become.

Eva writes...

My 10 year old just entered Middle school...he is adjusting to it pretty well...but the issue I am having is with homework. The homework load seems to have grew so much. Its often stressful for me as a parent of 3 other boys, 2 of who are in school as well, and one who is younger to keep him focused.
Any tips on how to get him to do his homework better and focus?
Also he suffers from ADD and takes meds for this in the morning, they are extended release, but I still feel like by the time he gets home and eats that they are starting to wear off.

Aviva? writes...

Homework is always a tough topic to tackle. Everyone handles it so differently - both the kids and the parents. Here are a few things to keep in mind that could help. Some kids need to come home, get a snack and unwind a bit before they can tackle it. Others need to jump right on it while they are still in school mode. Determine which of these, or another, best fits your son and be consistent with it. Where homework is done is another biggie. Again, you will need to find a location that best fits your kid. Some kids need total silence and isolation, others may prefer to be alone but have music on, still others may want to sit in the middle of it all at the kitchen table. Every personality is different! It may take a couple of weeks to figure out what will work best but once you have determined some key issues related to the homework beast, your consistency surrounding those issues will make it easier to tame!

bernice writes...

Question:
My child started first grade at a new school this year. Last year she enjoyed going to school. For the past 2-3 days she keeps telling me that school is boring, and why should she go? I mean she's got 11+ years to go So............
*What should I do/tell her?

Aviva? writes...

Bernice, there are at least a few possibilities here. 1) She really is bored and you should encourage her to give things a chance to get started, 2) She is exposed to more kids now and may be hearing those words from other children without really even knowing what they mean, 3) She is in a new environment and not sure what she is supposed to be doing, or 4) Who knows - kids are kids and it is often difficult to figure out what is really going on with them. So, what to do...... Be involved. Toss open ended questions out to your daughter to find out what is really filling her time while she is at school. Since she has good past experiences to draw from you may ask her what kind of things she is doing differently in 1st grade. I would also encourage you to get in the classroom or engage in a conversation with her teacher in some way - phone, email, whatever options are open. This will give you a little more insight into her daily activities. Transitions bring challenges, especially major ones like starting a new school. Be patient and inquisitive while you encourage your daughter to do the same.

Aviva? writes...

Bernice, there are at least a few possibilities here. 1) She really is bored and you should encourage her to give things a chance to get started, 2) She is exposed to more kids now and may be hearing those words from other children without really even knowing what they mean, 3) She is in a new environment and not sure what she is supposed to be doing, or 4) Who knows - kids are kids and it is often difficult to figure out what is really going on with them. So, what to do...... Be involved. Toss open ended questions out to your daughter to find out what is really filling her time while she is at school. Since she has good past experiences to draw from you may ask her what kind of things she is doing differently in 1st grade. I would also encourage you to get in the classroom or engage in a conversation with her teacher in some way - phone, email, whatever options are open. This will give you a little more insight into her daily activities. Transitions bring challenges, especially major ones like starting a new school. Be patient and inquisitive while you encourage your daughter to do the same.

Devra? writes...

Hi Bernice,

You may want ask your daughter's teacher if he/she is spending the first weeks of school reviewing material that may have already covered during kindergarten. Quite a few schools spend the first few weeks going through some of the basics from the previous year in order to provide an after summer "refresher" for the students. This works out nicely for the students who may need a boost at the beginning of the year, but for those who retain every detail from the previous school year, it is booooring. Both of my son's experessed what I called "Review Rage" wherein for the first few weeks of school they were surly, annoyed and complaining of being bored.

If this is the case with your daughter, let her know how long the review period will last and ask the teacher if there is anything she can give to your daughter in class, or for homework, that will make your daughter feel like she is seeing something "new." So much emphasis, and excitement, surrounds the claim of a "new" school year, that when kids arrive at school and spend the first few weeks going over "old" material, it can cause somewhat if a mental mutiny for some students.

A couple of years ago I wrote about my own experience dealing with my first grader son's rough start of the school year. http://www.parentopia.net/blog/2007/09/not-for-teacher.html

I know when you are in the middle of it, it's hard to see an end, but my guess is that in a few weeks this crisis will pass and your 1st grader will once again be a smiling student.

angela writes...

hi! i would be very glad if you could give me insights on this issues and worries in my mind. My daughter will be entering school this coming school year, this will be her first time to study in foreign country. i mean, my child is asian. she is just 6 years old and will be first grader. she is just so worried about what will happen to her in school, how to ride the bus, how can she make friends with other kids, that she feels so alone. But as a mother my worries are too much more than my child feels. i'm afraid for my daughters adjustments. there is also another problem, shes not so fluent well in speaking english. but she understands a little. plssssss help me on this matter. i would appreciate this so much. Thank you!

Aviva? writes...

Angela, I assume your daughter is starting school in the United States - hopefully, this is a correct assumption. You are right, your worries are probably much greater than your daughters but that is because you are the mom and it is your job to worry. The good news is most 1st graders are feeling the same way your daughter is feeling. The better news is her 1st grade teacher is well trained to deal with these feelings. Kids are very flexible and adaptable; she is likely to learn all the new responsibilities that come with being a first grader very quickly. As for her language, she will probably pick up English quickly since she will be surrounded by it each day. The other children may be curious about her Asian language and customs but they are just as likely to not notice her differences at all. Kids are mostly interested in themselves anyway. I am sure she will do just fine and she will soon be letting you know everything is great at her new school.

abby writes...

what do u do when your prek3 child reported that she was put on time out inside the bathroom because she doesn't want to stop crying? the teacher is upset for me to even think that she did this to my daughter. i would not think of this is it wasn't reported by my 2 daughters who apparently is in the same class. My other daughter who is more vocal is 4 years old and the one who was put on time out is 3 years old. they both have the same story to tell. She was crying and she woke up the other classmates during nap and she was put on time out inside the bathroom! i will be meeting with the school principal and the teacher. what do you say? I only have my kids' words. and kids never lie. this is totally unacceptable. especially i have high hopes for the my kids since i put them in a private and catholic school.

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