The Best Cure for First-Day Jitters

The first day of school has so many challenges and joys, whether it’s the start of daycare, kindergarten, middle school, high school, college or just starting the next grade.

Many parents talk about tears when sending their little ones off to school for the first time and having a deep sense of loss and worry. Not me. I was pleased as punch to get them out into the world. I don’t mean I wanted to get rid of them. I was eager for them to have new experiences and to find their independence.

I don’t recall my oldest, Paige, ever having worries about any of her first days. She was always a trooper, ready to get in the mix with the other kids and socialize. Grace too, with the exception of a few worrisome back-to-school moments.

I was fortunate to be able to keep Grace at home for 18 months. When she was 16 months old, I was really worried that something was wrong with her hearing because she had a much smaller vocabulary than her sister did when she was that age. I took her for half a dozen hearing tests. None were conclusive. Then, two weeks before she would start daycare, the doctor said we should put tubes in her ears and that may help with the hearing.

I was set to do it. But then I learned she would have to be put under general anesthesia. I was not doing that and decided to give it more time. She started daycare, and to everyone’s surprise, started talking up a storm on that first day and never shut up. Over the years, we had to tell her to stop talking.

It turns out everyone in the family was guilty of getting her things and responding to her every need, without her having to say or ask for much. When she had to fend for herself, she had no problem speaking up. That’s true to this day.

But there were bigger jitters when she started third grade at a new school. The evening before, she kept telling me she couldn’t breathe. Her chest was hurting. She had no signs of physical sickness. I knew it was anxiety and just tried my best to calm her down and tell her to take deep breaths.

When that didn’t work, I called her pediatrician who told me it was anxiety. Just to be sure, the doctor advised taking her to an urgent care center to have her checked out. At the very least, it would give Grace some peace of mind. They did X-rays and examined her: nothing was wrong with her lungs. On the way home I told her she was OK and that was that. I guess she figured she wasn’t dying. The next day she went off to school and made friends.

Fast forward to this past August, when she was to return to college in California—more anxiety and tears. In the days leading up to going, she kept saying how stressed she was and that she didn’t want to go back. She was worried about her new job as a resident assistant. She hadn’t spoken to her college friends all summer and was worried how that would play out.

Grace had few expectations as a freshman, but going into sophomore year she did. How would she do in the new job? How she would get along with friends?  Plus, she said she had become so comfortable at home and enjoyed being there so much that it would be hard to be so far away.

I left Baltimore in August with a tearful 18-year-old child dreading the year ahead. But I returned, leaving behind a young woman ready to take on the challenges ahead of her. Once she got situated in her room, saw her friends, got to work and realized the beauty of her lovely surroundings, Grace was OK.

There are no magic beans for getting through the first days. All you can do is reassure your children and not show your own tears and dread. Tell them they are strong and beautiful and smart and they are loved and you are always there for them. That will give them the confidence they need to step up to the challenge.

I say all of this knowing—and Grace knowing, too—she will be calling one day in the near future to say, “I don’t think this school is right for me…blah, blah, blah.”  And I will talk her off the ledge until the next time.

Read Lisa’s latest blog post here.

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