Thursday, July 31, 2014

Getting Prepped for Returning to School- Reducing Child Anxiety

Going back to school can be exciting for some students, but nerve racking for others, especially if kids are moving to a new school. Every year I see a few parents walking around campus before school starts and I think it's a great idea. School can look very different when you have 1000+ students walking around, so figuring out where you are going on campus before school starts is a wonderful idea. Stowell Learning Center has a similar tip and explains it well:

 Part 1 Don't Get Lost

"I'm in the land of giants. How do I get out of here?" seven-year-old David thought to himself.

After finishing lunch, he and his two friends had taken a wrong turn out of the cafeteria. Instead of finding themselves headed back to their second grade classroom, they had mistakenly entered...The Junior High part of the building.
Those sixth-seventh-eighth graders were HUGE! And they ALL seemed to know exactly where they were and where they were going. It was really scary.

All of this anxiety could have been avoided if he had just been given a tour of the school before the first day. It's such a simple thing.
Before the first day of school, go to the building. Take a look at it. Where are the entrances? Where is the playground? What can you figure out just by looking at the outside?
Is there a map you can download or get from the school?

If you can get inside, do some exploring:
  • Where is the lunchroom?
  • Where is the PE area?
  • Where is my classroom?
  • Will I have to change classes? If so, where are the other rooms?
  • Where is the office? (Hint...It's almost always near the flagpole).
  • Where are the bathrooms?
  • Where is the library?
  • Are there multiple ways to get to all of these rooms?
  • In what order might I need to go from room to room?
  • Take a few pictures so you can remember what it looks like
Getting lost can happen to anyone, but it is more apt to happen to students who struggle. Start the year by removing this anxiety. It's such a simple thing thing to fix beforehand, but getting lost during school can ruin a whole day.

Make sure the first few days are fun and not an exercise in frustration.


 Part 2

As we get closer to the beginning of school, many students develop some anxiety, nervousness, or reluctance about starting a new year.

Let's face it, there are different things every year...different room, different teachers, new students, new subjects, etc.

On top of all that, teachers have reputations among students. Certain rooms may have stories told about them. Some subjects have a reputation for being challenging. Whatever it is, getting students to talk about whatever is on their minds, as well as developing a plan to overcome "hurdles," is a good idea.

This week you'll find some guidelines of things to talk to your son or daughter about as the first day of school approaches OR even after school has started.

BE GENTLE AND UNDERSTANDING. These issues may not seem very important to you, but they can be very real to your child
What Could Possibly Happen? Let's Make a Plan!
is a list of typical concerns of students. Very few of these things seem really important to the operation of the "cosmos", but they can be very real to students.

WARNING - You need to be VERY careful! You don't want to create anxiety where there isn't any. DON'T DON'T DON'T show this list to your student! This list is for your reference.

Step 1 - At an appropriate time (when your child is in the mood) sit down together and just ask what they're feeling about the new school year. What are they excited about? Do they have any concerns? What are they hoping for? They may not be thinking about it at all. They may be thinking about things none of us have considered.

Just remember, no matter how trivial it might sound to you, it is REAL to them!

Step 2 - Make a list of the BEST things that could happen in the upcoming year. What would the "best year ever" look and feel like?

Step 3 - Now, make a plan just in case everything doesn't work out exactly as we all hope. If any of the concerns actually occurs, what will you do? How will you handle it? What would it feel like? How can it be made OK?

Essential - Find out what your child has been thinking about as the first day of school gets closer. Make a plan. And DON'T create worries if they aren't there already.

Here's a list of concerns students sometimes have about the new school year. What if:

  • You get the "bad" or "mean" teacher?
  • You're in a different room than your best friends?
  • You're in a room with people you really don't like?
  • You get the "hard" teacher?
  • You get the "easy" teacher??
  • You have to sit in the front?
  • You have to sit in the back?
  • Lunch is early?
  • Lunch is late?
  • There is a smell in the room you don't like?
  • You can't understand the teacher? (accent, mumbles, talks softly)
  • The teachers talks too loudly or harshly?
  • There is waayyyy too much homework?
  • There isn't any homework?
  • The teacher just doesn't seem to like you or notice you?
  • You're the teacher's "pet?"
  • Your new backpack, notebook, etc, is too big / too small?
  • What if other kids make fun of your clothes / backpack / shoes / pencil / lunch?
  • What if you get yelled at the very first day?
  • What if you feel "lost" on your very first assignment?
  • What if you can't find your way around the building?

Part 3

 We continue getting ready for school to start.

Two weeks ago we discussed the advantages of setting up a place for your student to do homework.

Every student needs to know where he or she will do homework. Having all the materials together in one place, with the right lighting, an appropriate place to write, and be comfortable reading, simply make the process of getting homework started and completed easier.

This week, we'll take that one step further.

This is a week to sit down with your child and work out some details. I promise you that taking the time now will save you much "negotiation" later on!

Here's to the best year ever,

Jill Stowell
Create a Routine From The Start
Humans are creatures of habit.  If we create good habits and routines around homework, there will be much less argument and negotiation. 

Designate a set time when
homework will be done

This will solve a multitude of problems. If your child knows that every day from 3:45 - 4:45 is homework time, it will become an everyday routine. If it's "what we always do," pretty soon, no one expects anything different.

Ideally, you want to have homework time to be the same time every day. Determine the time with your student. Does she need a snack or a little down time before she starts? How much time will that take?

Look at your student's needs, the typical amount of time homework takes, and your family activities. Then if at all possible, designate the same time everyday for homework.

If this is not possible due to parents' work schedules, or other activities, create a weekly schedule where the homework time may vary from day-to-day, but there is a designated time each day of the week.
Stick to your designated
homework schedule.
Don't let anything else take priority.

Do not schedule appointments or take
phone calls during this time.

Nothing gets priority
over homework during
the set homework time!
Children are often guilty of saying, "I don't have any homework today." (This may or may not be true!) Sometimes, students forget their materials, forget to write down their assignments, "conveniently" forget details, or just find it easier to say they don't have  homework.
Whether your son or daughter has
homework or not,
the designated homework
time is for homework.
If she actually has no homework from school, homework time should be spent studying for spelling tests or other upcoming tests, working on long-term assignments and book reports, doing free-reading, or writing in a journal. This preserves the homework time routine and helps remove the temptation of saying there's no homework when in fact there is.

You'll find that the routine of a schedule really creates much more order and calmness when it's time to do homework.

BUT, the time to set all of this up is right now, BEFORE you get too far into the school year.

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