Planning for Success: Reducing the 'Back-to-School' Jitters


Dear Dr. Mary and Lynn: 

Every year I dread the beginning of school.  My daughter begins worrying about it weeks before it starts.  How do I help her feel comfortable?  During the summer she has a few special friends she plays with regularly, but school always seems a bit overwhelming to her.  ~Emma

Dear Emma:

By your description we suspect your daughter may be an introvert who prefers to observe before acting and may find moving into a room filled with new people a bit overwhelming.  If you haven’t read the book Quiet by Susan Cain grab a copy.  It’s a wonderful celebration of introverts.  Unfortunately in our culture introverts are often “pushed” to be more outgoing or bold, but Susan reminds us that your daughter shares this trait with greats like filmmaker Steven Spielberg, writer R J Rowling, scientist Isaac Newton and change agents Rosa Parks and Eleanor Roosevelt. This is a quality to treasure!  But that still leaves us with getting in that room.  Here are some skills you can teach her that allow her to work well in a group and feel comfortable.  Being an introvert is NOT synonymous with shy. 

Teach your daughter to stand straight, smile and look people in the eye when she first meets them.  You can practice this at home.  Help her understand that she’s a planner and likes to be certain before she makes a move.  That means she is more comfortable when she knows what is going to happen and what is expected of her.  You can obtain this information by e-mailing the teacher ahead of time to find out the agenda for the first day or preferably stopping by school before then to meet the teacher, find her room, the bathrooms, her locker, seat and the cafeteria.  You can also discover who else will be in her class so she can look for a “friendly face.”  Explain to your daughter that when she first enters a new situation all of the noise, emotions, colors and sounds can seem overwhelming, so teach her to say hello, then find a place to step back and observe.  It might be by the drinking fountain or by her locker while she puts things away.  If someone “crowds” her she can put her hand out for a high five, or she can move around a table or chair to get the space that feels more comfortable to her.  Before that first day you can also talk about the things she has loved most about school in the past.  Often introverts like to go “deep” into a subject and are so passionate about it that it makes those new situations much more comfortable.  Finally expect that after that first day she may be too drained to immediately talk about what happened.  Give her space and time.  Start bedtime early because that’s when she’ll probably be ready to tell you all about her day. 

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