‘First-Day Jitters’ May Look Different This Year for Children

With the start of the school year edging closer and the coronavirus pandemic showing little sign of slowing down, “first-day jitters” takes on a whole new meaning. As classroom instruction resumes this fall, many parents are looking for ways to help their children cope with the adjusted safety protocols — as well as their anxieties. 

Trinity Christian Academy lower school counselor and play therapist Emily Bush has seen uneasiness manifest in a number of ways in her students since school closed in March. 

“Especially with my kiddos that were kind of on the nervous side or had some fears, those I saw exacerbated in the spring,” Bush said, adding that these included increased nightmares and a fear of the dark, among other things.

As schools reopen, she expects to see similar occurrences. “Also, there is a fear of getting sick, but really, I didn’t hear students talking about fear of getting sick as much as I heard them talking about these other fears that I knew, as a counselor, were feeding off of this kind of bigger fear of getting sick that they haven’t necessarily been able to name.”

“What tools does the child have to deal with this fear, what tools can I give them to deal with this fear, what tools do I need to equip myself with to deal with this fear because I can only give what I have?”

Emily Bush
Emily Bush

Bush said kids tend to worry about the concrete, such as if they’ll see their friends that are in other classes, though some will worry about getting sick as well. 

If they aren’t able to voice these fears, Bush suggests drawing the school day or acting it out with dolls, and allowing them to make choices about how the day will unfold.

“It’s walking through those little steps with a kiddo that helps them visualize what’s going to happen and can decrease those fears a whole lot,” Bush said. 

Giving children choices also helps them follow safety guidelines, Bush said. She suggests following the ‘ACT’ limit setting method, which stands for “acknowledge the emotion, communicate the limit, and target the alternative.”

When targeting the alternative, a parent can provide several options for the child to choose from. For example, if a child wants to give a hug to their teacher, after recognizing that emotion and explaining the six feet apart rule, they can choose between an air high five or a wink.

“They don’t have a choice of whether they follow [the rule] or not, but they do have a choice in how,” Bush said.

Bush also recommends a weekly check in as students head back to school. “I suggest a lot of times to have a date on the calendar,” Bush said. “It gives kids something to look forward to and they know it’s consistent.”

However, Bush added, “You don’t want to pester a kid with, ‘How are you doing? Are you scared?’ every day when they get home because then they’ll feel affronted.”

Bush said that a lot of what goes into helping kids is parents managing their own anxieties. Quoting a webinar she recently took part in, Bush paraphrased a point she liked: “‘What tools does the child have to deal with this fear, what tools can I give them to deal with this fear, what tools do I need to equip myself with to deal with this fear because I can only give what I have?”


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