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How To Help Your Child — And Yourself — Through The First Day Of School

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In a normal year, the first day of school can be anxiety-provoking for parents and children alike.

WENDY MOGEL: All kids tend to be a combination of excited and nervous about the first day of school.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

But after a year and a half of virtual learning, those first-day butterflies might be even more intense, says clinical psychologist Wendy Mogel.

MOGEL: This year feels terribly, terribly special and terribly, terribly worrisome. And yet many things about it are the same.

KELLY: Well, never fear. There are ways to manage first-day anxieties and avoid that tearful or difficult drop-off. For one, parents can do their homework before the first day.

MOGEL: Which means go on the school website and see what the protocols are. See what the school administrators are recommending about preparing the children for this unusual transition back to school. And shush the crisis chatter.

CORNISH: Parents might also want to get back to those school-year routines, earlier bedtimes and wake-ups before school starts. And Mogel says talk to kids about their feelings.

KELLY: Then when the first day of school arrives and you're feeling unsettled...

PATTI ARETZ: I'll say, fake it till you make it.

KELLY: That is Patti Aretz, a parent educator in the San Diego area. She says difficult drop-offs often happen because the parents are nervous.

ARETZ: March down from your parking spot to our gate with a big smile on your face and a lot of confidence.

CORNISH: Aretz says kids pick up on that confidence the same way they pick up on anxiety. And, she adds, trust the educators. If tears do come, yours or theirs, Mogel says, remember; that's normal.

MOGEL: If you can insulate yourself from vibrating along with your child in their pain, you can be a calm and calming presence.

KELLY: And what shouldn't you do? Here's Aretz.

ARETZ: Don't linger. Don't hang on to your child. Don't cry (laughter) in front of them. You're welcome to cry in the car. Don't exude a feeling of - there's danger. There's mistrust.

KELLY: So there you have it. Do have confidence. Do talk to your child. Don't panic. Easy, right? Good luck.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHOENIX SONG, "SCHOOL'S RULES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.