Going back to school is exhilarating, challenging ó and stressful and frightening. From kindergarten to graduate school, it's filled with mixed emotions and experiences for both students and their parents.
Relax, say the experts.
If you're a parent with a young child leaving home for the first time, you can help ease the transition by talking to the child about the change well before its start, says Richard Gallagher, director of the parenting institute of the child study center at New York University Medical Center in New York City.
Ask your child what he thinks about school and what he is expecting, especially if he seems anxious about the prospect. This will give you an opportunity to correct any misunderstandings and get him into a positive frame of mind.
"Don't let distorted ideas lead to anxiety," Gallagher says.
He advises checking out the separation policy at the school; most schools will let the parents stay at the class for a certain period of time, gradually leaving the child in the school's care.
On up the ladder, each shift in schooling brings new stresses, especially for new junior high or middle school students. "Junior high school is a time of drastic physical, academic and social changes, and it is a very stressful time for young adolescents," says Dr. Linda Thornton, assistant professor of education at Harding University in Searcy, Ark.
"The social aspect of the transition to middle level school is particularly unnerving to young adolescents. Many kids have heard horror stories of being stuffed in lockers and being bullied by the older and bigger eighth graders," says Dr. Judith A. Brough, professor of education and education department chairman at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pa. "They're nervous about leaving their elementary school friends and fear that they won't fit in to the new setting."
Brough advises parents to make sure their children maintain friendships in other settings: church or temple, youth groups, sports and music. That way, your child knows she has a group of friends to turn to.
Find out if the school holds summertime orientations, she adds. These sessions will explain the different type of schedules, classes and assignments the student will be encountering for the first time.
"Parents can help their young adolescents by keeping the home front as stable and consistent as possible at this time," says Brough. "Kids need an opportunity to adjust to the new school before dealing with any major changes at home."