Ask Dr. Ava: School-Year Start

Expert help on preparing your child for a successful introduction -- or return -- to school.
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First-Day Jitters

It's hard to believe that the summer is almost over. In just a few weeks, your kids will be trading the relaxed, carefree days of vacation for the more focused stimulation and stress of school. Are they eager to go back -- or moaning and groaning? What makes kids feel tense about entering or returning to school? Why do they get headaches and stomach aches and all kinds of other aches as the big day approaches?

To understand your child's anxieties, you've got to realize that school is serious for kids -- it's their job! In essence, when your child leaves your house she's going to work, and she feels all the worries that an adult would feel starting a new job with a new boss and new colleagues: Will I make any friends? Will my boss like me? What will be expected of me? Do I have what it takes to do this job?

What worries preschoolers

Even though it may seem as if your 2- to 4-year-old "just plays" at preschool, he's actually comparing his own skills to his peers' at each and every activity he's asked to do. Can he build a good block tower? Does he grip his pencil the right way? Does he know his colors? Can he recognize his name?

In addition to all the new learning challenges your child must master if she's entering preschool or kindergarten for the first time, she must also deal with separation from her parents and her home. This is no easy task, particularly for first children, who are usually used to a lot of adult attention and not used to sharing the spotlight with their peers.

But even when children have grown up with siblings, it's a big change to go from the comfort and protection of your own family to the larger, unpredictable world of school. Matching your skills and needs and rhythms to 15 to 20 other children can be overwhelming at first.

New challenges after kindergarten

Once your child moves beyond kindergarten, he must take on the challenges of reading, writing, and arithmetic, not to mention science, social studies, art, and music. This is the age (6 to 9 years old) when early strengths -- or alternatively, early weaknesses -- become known. This is also the time when learning disabilities of all kinds are revealed (difficulties reading, writing, attending, concentrating, processing, or producing work, etc.). Nothing can make a child feel worse than the realization that all the kids in his class know how to read and he just can't "get it."

Social issues for preteens

For older children, making new friends or keeping the ones they made last year, is a priority. Nine to 11-year-olds want to be liked by others, and fear of being left out or rejected can make your child feel tense and uneasy in the first weeks of school. At this age, basic athletic skills -- or the absence of them -- also play a large role in the development of self-esteem. It's hard to feel good about yourself if you don't feel good about your body; it's hard to have confidence if you feel inept, and it's hard to feel accepted if you're the last one chosen for the team.

Fears of the unknown, fears of separating from those who love and comfort you, fears about one's abilities, fears of being left out or left behind, and fears of failing are some of the powerful fears your kids can feel as they face entering or returning to school.

Continued on page 2:  How Parents Can Help


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