Thousands of Iowa children are headed off for their first-ever day of school today, and for some, it’ll be traumatic. Dr. Karen Nelson, a psychiatry professor at the University of Iowa, says it can be a very difficult experience, for the parent and the child, if the kid breaks down at the school’s front door, crying and clinging.
Nelson says: "Kindergarten teachers are pros. They know that this is something that can be expected from some children the first week of kindergarten and they can skillfully, quickly extract the child and get them playing or doing something else, and the best thing a parent can do is make a quick exit and have their sadness or tears out of the presence of the child."
Nelson says the back-to-school experience can also be stressful for freshmen or sophomores who are heading to high school for the first time. Nelson says: "Everything is new and kids are worried about making an impression, both socially and academically on their teachers. They’re worried about how they’ll do in activities and most of all, at the older level, how they’ll fit in. For some, they really look forward to a fresh start and other children really mourn not being at the top of the heap." She says parents can help calm their kids’ anxieties by listening to their fears and helping them work through their concerns.
Nelson says: "For example, a child might think they are expected to know how to read when they start kindergarten, or older children might have told them, ‘Oh, that teacher’s so mean. She doesn’t let you go to the bathroom,’ or ‘She expects you to know how to read on the very first day.’ Children really don’t know what to expect from a new school so the kinds of things they worry about sometimes surprise parents." Nelson’s oldest child is starting kindergarten today, too. She says she’ll try to heed her own advice, but knows it’ll still be a challenge.