School looms on the horizon just like the sun. It is a warm, familiar sunset to ride into for some children. For others, especially children starting a new school or transitioning to a higher grade, it’s a desert sun bringing sweat and a dry mouth.
“Even though most children are anxious during a time of change, they can be quite happy and adjust to the new school within two weeks. But if a child does not adjust, there are issues beyond the transition,” says child-adolescent psychologist Vivian Friedman, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurobiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Friedman suggests these actions to ease your child’s transition:
Schedule a play date with a child from the new school
Visit the playground during summer
Take a tour of the school
The most important thing not to do is add to your child’s stress, Friedman says. Stay positive. Drop off and pick up on time. Do not cry when you leave. And do not compare them to other children. Remember, deep down, this behavior is who your child is.
“Character styles are persistent, not permanent. A child who approaches life with fear may also be a cautious adult,” says Friedman. “An easy-going child is likely to continue to approach life with a positive attitude. Help your child to see the glass half-full rather than half-empty. When a child has a negative view, after acknowledging how he feels, ask him how else he might view that situation or how someone else might see it.”
How does a parent know if a child is just discomforted or if they are truly traumatized?
Friedman says whining and threats to run away or harm oneself should be seen as symptoms of underlying issues. She says you need to “look for symptoms such as nightmares or other sleep disturbances, a return to bedwetting in a child who has not done so for a time, startle responses and generally anxious behavior. These are symptoms of trauma.”
Watch your child. If their emotional, behavioral or social behavior is out of the ordinary for longer than a couple weeks, you should consider seeking outside help.