Ease Child's Fears When Entering Public School

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Taken from: Growing Concerns- A childrearing question-and-answer column with Dr. Martha Erickson

Question: My son has attended a private preschool and kindergarten the past three years and has gotten along just fine. But now that he's about to enter first grade in a nearby public school, he seems to be terrified at the thought. How can I ease his fears?

Answer: Since your son has gotten along well at his previous school, he'll probably do just fine at his new school, as well. But he doesn't know that yet. His fears are not at all unusual. For a child of any age, entering a new school is a big step. The fear of the unknown is significant, but there are also several specific things children worry about. For example, your son may be concerned that he'll get lost in the new (and probably bigger) school. Or he may think he'll embarrass himself by doing something foolish in front of his new class. Social rejection is a common fear when children enter a new environment. Your son may worry that he won't have any friends, or that the kids will tease him or push him around. Or he might be concerned about whether he'll be able to handle the more demanding tasks of first grade or whether his teacher will be nice to him.

The first step in helping your son is simply to encourage him to talk about what he's thinking and feeling about the new school. Ask him what he thinks will be fun and what he thinks will be hard. Then, whatever his worries, reassure him but don't dismiss his fears. Even though concerns sometimes sound trivial to an adult, they are big in the eyes of a five-year-old. Most important of all, work out a plan with him to help him see that he can manage his fears. The following steps should help your son feel more comfortable about his new school and his ability to handle whatever comes up:

* Visit the school and do a walk-through to help him feel confident about finding his way around the building.

* Arrange for him to get together with another child who will be attending the school. Or, if a visit isn't possible, arrange a phone conversation.

* If possible, arrange for your child to talk to the teacher on the phone before school starts. (Some schools now have teachers call the children and their families during the teacher preparation days before school starts. You may want to encourage this at your son's school if it hasn't already started such a policy.)

* Before school begins, help your son brush up on some of the things he learned in his last school year. Help restore his confidence in himself as a successful learner.

* Use role-playing to help your son practice what he'll do if he gets in a tough situation, such as being teased by classmates or getting lost trying to find the bathroom.

* Most fears shrink in the face of open discussion and active practice about how to handle them. And, in the process, your son will learn positive ways for coping with other new situations as he gets older.

The Children, Youth and Family Consortium invites your questions on child rearing for possible inclusion in this column. E-mail to mferick@tc.umn.edu or write to Growing Concerns, University of Minnesota News Service, 3 Morrill Hall, 100 Church St. S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55455.
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