Starting School: A Roadmap for Change-Sensitive Kids

appleKids who are worriers and sensitive to change often have problems starting school.  This process most affects kids starting kindergarten, but prior school experience does not guarantee easy adaptation to starting school.

This is my basic outline that I offer parents who are navigating this transition:

 1. Kids who are worriers often are more routine-driven and have more difficulty adapting to changes such as starting school.

2. As a parent, you have to understand this temperament and know yourself–the more clear you are about how you handle change, the better you will be about helping your child with school start-up.

3. If you have more than 1 child, it is not uncommon to have totally different personalities and response to change.  It is not unusual to have 1 child who loves school and enjoys the whole process from learning to social contacts–friends they know from prior school year for example. If you also have a worrier who has to know exactly what to expect, this child will require more planning and anticipation to get “plugged in” to a new school year and learning environment

4. It helps immensely for your child to know the details of what happens on day1–the first day of school.

5. Planning for this means meeting their teacher prior to starting school.  Your school should have a meet the teacher night or program during which you can introduce your child to their new teacher.

6. If your child is a worrier and more socially sensitive, he or she may need time and overt permission to take their time adapting to new classmates.  It is ok to let a new teacher know that Suzy or Billy is kind of shy and to please let them get used to daily routines and classmates before calling on them to answer questions.  Asking for their participation should be handled with sensitivity to your child’s level of social stress associated with this process.

7. Acquaint your child’s teacher with learning strengths  which your child has, which can include reading, math–number sense, or art.  Asking your child to do something that he or she feels most confident about starts the process of establishing a “beachhead of success”.  

8. During the process of meeting your child’s new teacher, it helps to show your child which door he or she will enter to get to their classroom, where the nearest bathroom is, where the cafeteria is in relation to their classroom, and what will be the routine for getting to school and getting from school to home at end of day.

9. I refer to this process as dress rehearsal and includes the use of familiar kids to accompany your child to their class.  Two sources for this social “WD-40” for your child:

A. Older sibling who goes to same school and can walk with your younger change-sensitive child to their class
B.  A neighbor’s child who knows your child well and can provide comforting reassurance eg. carpooling to school so that this well-known “buddy” can walk with your child to their new classroom.

 10. If your child is extremely anxious, it is helpful to meet briefly with principal of the school, and let the principal know about your child’s sensitive temperament so that this information can be given to your child’s new teacher.  A good teacher fit for your child can be pivotal in the experience your child has with the school year.  You cannot ask for a specific teacher, but a teacher who understands your child’s temperament and change-sensitivity can make this transition a much more friendly process for your child.