Dear Ms. Lydia,
My son turned 5 in June and is starting kindergarten in the fall. He has always been an anxious and shy child, but this seems to be excessive anxiety. He has attended preschool since he was 3, but we enrolled him for the minimum amount of time because he really resisted going to school. Then when COVID hit, he was thrilled to stay home and his preschool never re-opened, so he has been home for a LONG time! We have been talking to him about kindergarten and he is already getting stressed out about it! Do you have any advice?
– Worried in Woodbridge
This past year-and-a-half has raised the anxiety level in everyone, so it is understandable that your son is also experiencing stress, not just from starting school but the state of the world and his place in it. Although you mentioned he has always been an anxious child, it is important to note all contributing factors before assigning the cause of his stress strictly to starting school. Have you had the news on when your son was in the room? The news over the past year-and-a-half has been scary and overwhelming for most adults … imagine what those images do to our children and their anxiety level. Have there been any changes in the household? Divorce? Death? Illness? Have any members of your household flip-flopped between working at home and working in the office? This instability in the household can raise your son’s anxiety as well. Identifying some of these external stress factors can help you when talking to your son about how he is feeling.
Once it is established that his anxiety is focused on starting kindergarten, you can help ease his stress with a few tips:
Establish a goodbye routine.
For example, say goodbye at the same location each day and develop a ritual. Another way is to “give mommy (or Daddy) one more kiss and one more hug and then I will blow one kiss to keep in your pocket”. Predictability is one key to reducing stress … When he can rely on a routine, he has some control over it.
Visit the school ahead of time to give him the “lay of the land.”
Many schools do a kindergarten “playdate” or some type of get together before the school year starts. If his school offers this, make sure that you attend. He will get a chance to meet the teacher and meet some new friends. If your school does not do this, make an appointment to visit the classroom. This will help him visualize where he will be during the day, which will ease some stress.
Don’t talk about starting school too much in advance.
This will stretch out the anxiety. Wait until about a month before starting school to discuss it and building it up as a positive experience.
Keep your anxiety in check.
Children are very intuitive, and he will pick up if you are anxious and this will only increase his stress level.
Speak to your child’s pediatrician…
if you feel his anxiety is beyond the typical first day of school jitters. You can look for:
- Physical symptoms like stomachache or headache
- Crying and/or clinginess that interferes with normal activities
Have a question you want Ms. Lydia to answer in a future issue? Email her at Lydsville2@ca.rr.com