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Whether it’s a child’s first year at school or their third, sometimes a he or she may experience mild or moderate anxiety about going to school.

In many instances, anxiety about going to school will wane after a few days. But if not, here are some tips to help your child through their anxiety and enjoying school.

Establish a Routine

One of the most comfortable things for a child is to have a routine. At this point, they don’t have control over many aspects of their lives. Establishing routines let them have predictability, which helps them know what to expect—and to participate in it—instead of to feel like they’re being dragged around without any warning.

Consider establishing a routine with your child to help them through their anxiety about going to school. Having a routine at home before school can help prevent before-school fights

Sing a Silly Song Together Before Getting in the Car

Make up a silly song to sing each morning while helping your child find his or her shoes and school bag. A song will signal it’s almost time to leave can help your child mentally prepare for the day while turning the experience into something fun. Make it up—it doesn’t have to be good and it doesn’t even have to rhyme. As long as you’re having fun with the tune, then your child will have fun too!

It’s time to go to school
And it’s going to be cool!
I love my class and friends
So we’re going there again!
I have to find my shoes
Cuz barefoot’s against the rules
My bag goes on my head
Oops, I’ll hold my bag instead!
I’m skipping to the car
Then we’re driving very far
To go to school school school
School school school is cool!!! 

Connect with Your Child Before You Leave

Some children have separation anxiety when they feel they haven’t had a chance to connect with their parent or guardian before being shuffled off to another caregiver. Taking a moment to snuggle or read a few books together, to talk about your day, or to play a game together, can make your child feel connected. Child psychologist, Lawrence Cohen, Ph.D. tells parents to think of connecting with their child like filling a bucket. A child will feel more comfortable and confident when they have a “full bucket.” Like gas in a fuel tank, your child needs his or her bucket filled to happily and comfortably take on the challenges ahead. Without that connection, your child will have a more difficult time perking up and enjoying the day.

Don’t Argue With Their Feelings

When a child says, “I don’t like school!” it’s tempting to respond, “Yes you do. You liked it just fine yesterday,” or some variation thereof. This can have a negative impact by either making your child more stubborn in his or her viewpoint to prove to you just how much they really do hate school, or it can make them feel like you don’t believe their emotions are justified or real which can have negative long-term effects on their self-esteem.

Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, authors of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk suggest opening a dialogue that acknowledges your child’s emotions and opens the space for them to talk about their feelings without interrogating or pressing for information. Sometimes this can help you understand the underlying reason for them not wanting to go to school (“Jace pushes me down and makes me sad,” or “Spelling tests are really hard and I didn’t study,” or “I miss you when I’m at school.”). In many cases, they say, the child just wants to be able to express his or her opinion and that’s enough to calm them down.

Instead of “Yes you do!” try the following:

Child: “I don’t want to go to school!”
Parent: “You sound upset that you have to go to school today.”
Child: “I am upset! I don’t want to school!”
Parent: “You don’t want to go to school and are frustrated that you have to go.”
Child: “Yeah. I don’t like it as much as my old school.”
Parent: “You miss your old school.”
Child: “Yeah. I miss my old school and my old friends.”
Parent: “You wish you were still going to school with your friends Rebecca and Sage.”
Child: “Yes.”
Parent: “How would you feel about a playdate with Rebecca and Sage soon?”
Child: “Yes! That sounds great!”

Ask Questions About What They Do Like

Help your child focus on the positive by having a conversation about what they might like about school.

  • Do you like your teacher’s smile?
  • Do you like playing with your friends?
  • Do you like the books your teacher reads?
  • Do you like when you have cooking class?
  • Do you like the turtles in the science classroom?

If you keep getting “NO!” answers, try turning it into a silly game.

  • “Do you like… purple hairy toes?”
  • “Do you like… when the turtles sneeze all over the teachers and say, ‘Excuse me!’”
  • “Do you like… dancing flowers with pickle eyes?”

Don’t Bribe

This can be a tough one because it can be so tempting to tell the child you’ll get them a treat or take them for a special activity if they go into school without fussing. But this justifies their tantrum or defiance and teaches him or her that if they hold out and push mommy or daddy to the limit, they’ll get a reward in return.

Don’t Allow Electronics in the Car

If your child is throwing a tantrum right when it’s time to turn off the movie or take away the iPad, their reaction may not be so much about going to school as it is losing their electronic playtime. Or they may feel like school is a punishment or negative thing since it means taking away something they enjoy.

Games and movies may mean an easier drive for you, but it means your child is having to give up something they’re in the middle of enjoying. It makes it more difficult for your child to break away from their show or game to go into school.

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