Deal With "I Don't Want to Go to School!"
Unless you homeschool, there's no question your kid has to be backpack-on, lunch-box-in-hand ready on day one. Still, replying "You have to go, or Mommy and Daddy will go to jail," while true, isn't ideal. Ask him exactly what it is about school that's eating at him, advises Ruth Peters, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Clearwater, FL, and don't accept "Everything" as an answer. Probe gently, and depending on what he says, here's how to help him wrap his mind around the fact that September is just around the corner.
If what he means is: I don't want summer to end. Well, who can blame him? "But help put that in perspective," says Peters. "Dreading the end of a good thing doesn't mean that school is a bad thing." A reminder of the aspects of school that he adored last year -- friends, clubs, a particular subject -- should do it.
If what he means is: I've heard older kids say school is not cool. You should be able to ferret this out pretty easily. Then a quick "Are you kidding? What's not cool about meeting new people and learning new things?" should do it for a kindergartner or first-grader. To an older kid, you might say, "Do you really dislike school, all day, every day?" If it's fear of seeming uncool, he will probably be able to name some aspects of school he enjoys, and you can just remind him that he doesn't have to pretend to dislike something just to fit in.
If what he means is: I'm afraid of the work. Reassure him that the first six weeks of school is always a catch-up time, says Peters, and that when the pace picks up, you'll do whatever he needs to support him. "You can always get a tutor to help out," adds Peters, who points out that a high school student will often do it for little money. But watch your language here. "You want to empathize about the fact that certain things may be hard," she says, without making the problem seem insurmountable. So avoid saying something like "Yeah, none of us Spunkmeyers is good at math -- you got the gene!" Instead, try "Yes, math can be tough. But we'll figure it out one way or another."
If what he means is: I'm worried I'll have no friends/be bullied/have to eat lunch alone. Social worries are huge for kids and can cause a lot of anxiety about the start of school. "If something happened last year, they're probably thinking that more of the same is going to happen," says Peters. There's a lot you can do, though. Find out before his first day if his friends are going to be in his class, and if they're not, prepare him for that by talking over whom he can eat lunch with and making plans for after school. See if you can have a late-summer playdate to reconnect him with some of the kids he likes, or even arrange to have breakfast on the first day of school with his best friend and his best friend's mom. The more he knows about what's coming up, the better he'll feel.
Not Least: Meet the Teacher!
In the week before school starts -- after that, things will be madness -- make contact either in person or via e-mail and introduce yourself. You can let her know if your child has any particular sensitivities or if he or she needs special accommodations. Plus, it'll start off your relationship on a positive note.
Stephanie Dolgoff is Parenting's editor-at-large. Her blog is Formerlyhot.com.