First Day of School Can Be Unsettling

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist 

I still remember the first day of school.  I just didn't want to go.  I walked from home to school with my eldest brother who had the assignment to safely take me to school and deposit me there for several hours. 

Seeing how unhappy I was, my brother used the simple incentive system.  He stopped at a candy shop and asked me to get anything I wanted.  What a privilege, I thought. 

I was happy while eating it but my discomfort about going to school returned as I consumed the candy. 

I didn't like anything about the school.  I thought it was too noisy, dirty and the teacher was mean.  I was totally upset with the school and complained the rest of the day about it when I came home. 

My family thought that my distaste for school could be easily appeased by my taste for candy (my sweet tooth had earned enough notoriety by then!). 

The candy shop was next to the school.  It was arranged with the owner to let me have a candy of my choice every day on my way to school.  You have to know this to appreciate the importance of it, since in those days, in my neck of the woods, no one was treated so royally; school refusal was generally met with spanking. 

At any rate, on my way to school the following day, I stopped at the candy shop and ate my candy, but after eating it, instead of going to school, I turned around and walked home. 

Looking back, I don't think there was anything wrong with the school, I just liked home too much.  Home was the safe haven and I felt secure with my brothers, sisters and my next-door playmate.  School was a different story, I didn't know any adults there and I didn't know the kids except one or two.  Although Ii do not consciously remember it, I must have been very anxious, perhaps about leaving home, but also about being at school with adults and other kids I didn't know.  I do remember that I did not want to talk to any of them, kids or adults. 

If you have a child who is going to school for the first time and is resistant to the idea, talking to him or her about the school every day is a good idea.  Drive by the school as many times as you can.  Drive tot he parking lot.  Walk about the building and show your child as many parts of the school as may be accessible.  Look for every opportunity for any contact with the child's prospective teacher and other kids from the neighborhood who may be going to the same class. 

Let the child draw pictures of the school, the classroom, playground, teacher and other children, even if he has not seen any of them.  Parents need to talk about their own childhood days when they went to school, and to share their own experiences of school.  It is also a good idea for the older siblings to talk about their first days at school and how it got better for them as time went by.  If you involve an older sibling in a helping role, it would also prevent the older sibling from teasing or telling horror tales about the school to the anxious young one. 

Some divorced parents have a change of custodial right during the summer months.  In this case the child is settling with a new or step family, as well as going to a new school.  Some children have visited the other divorced parent during the summer months and they may have some concerns about leaving the other parents. 

If a child is going through some problems or unresolved feelings in adjusting to the family situation and that has not been acknowledged, then in some cases, a child may have difficulty taking the opening of school in stride.  Sometimes a child may be too attached to the mother and has not really come to separate from her.  Make sure that the child is getting used to leaving and playing, visiting, spending a night, going on a picnic with others, or engaging in any other activity to get some practice in being away from home and being with others than family members for several hours at some place other than home. 

Also, see to it that school learning, teachers and other kids are associated with something pleasurable rather than something unpleasant.  Help the child to identify all the possible fun things in relation to the major aspects  of the day at school.  Once you have done that, then whenever the child begins to focus on the negative thoughts about school, prompt him or her to focus on the thoughts about the fun things at school. 

Happy school days! 

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 


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