5 Strategies to Prepare Your Anxious Child For the First Day of School
August, as a kid, I used to refer to as " the dog days of summer". August is so hot, it feels like you could cook your food on the pavement. You have been out of school long enough to be in that space of adventure every day. August also meant I got to do one of my most favourite activities, back to school shopping. Writing my name on every pencil, organizing my binders with paper and tabs, being immensely organized waiting for that first day of school. A new year, new possibilities, a new me! I was excited to find out who my teacher would be, where I would sit, who would be my new best friend….
As a child, August was exciting!
So when my daughter was old enough, I was so excited to share my love for back to school with her. I would make a big deal of the new changes, I would take her shopping and we would buy all new clothes and school supplies.
I would say things like, "ooohhh I wonder who your teacher will be…. I wonder who you will sit next to….. Think of all the possibilities!!!!"
As August was winding down and that fateful first day of school drew near, Jordan, my daughter, was not sleeping, she was not eating, she was becoming quite anxious. Not realizing what was happening, I kept talking about how exciting the unknown could be. But the more I talked, the worse Jordan became.
She was so exhausted, she couldn't function. She was so nauseous, I ended up giving her Gravol, and then she finally slept.
The first day of school was a complete disaster. I believe it was when she experienced her first panic attack, only I didn't know it at the time.
I didn't know until many years later that Jordan is autistic and that changes in routine are very hard for her to manage. Spontaneity excites me, and often with all 3 babies, our lives were always on the go, not following any particular routine, except that we would always be home before bed.
If I knew then what I know now, I would never have put my daughter through so much torture.
Once she was diagnosed, I started learning about autism and seeing Jordan for who she really is. I was able to support her through one of the worst months in the year for her, August.
If I knew then what I know now…..
I would have called the school as soon as I knew they were in and asked if we could make a tour.
I would have asked for Jordan to meet her teacher, see her classroom and where she would be sitting before the first day of school.
I would have been more compassionate with my words when speaking to her about this change in routine.
I would have started the school routine in the beginning of August, so she was already familiar with bedtime and morning routines.
I would have scheduled therapy sessions for her that last week before school so she would have the coping skills fresh in her mind.
Some things in life are inevitable, regardless if they bring us anxiety or not. The first day of school is one of those things. We often feel helpless in how we can navigate stressful situations when we know we have to go through them. Sometimes, we need to stop, breathe and take it one day at a time.
Your child doesn’t have to have autism in order to be stressed about the first day of school. You may have not even realized that your child is anxious about it until you read this today.
You only know what you know, and now you may know differently.
Once I knew Jordan was anxious about the changes in routine associated with the first day of school, I did all those things I listed earlier, and it really helped to make August less stressful and more manageable for everyone, especially Jordan.
Please feel free to share this post with anyone who you feel will benefit from reading these strategies. It takes a village to raise a child, and I am happy to expand my village to all who need it.