Making the Change to Elementary School

With only a few short weeks of summer left, chances are conversations at home and with friends have already turned to the new school year. For young kids about to make the leap from preschool or kindergarten to elementary school, the transition can be daunting–especially if your little one has already exhibited behaviors that concern you.

If you’re worried about his learning style, be open with his new teacher. Although testing for learning disabilities is often inconclusive in younger children, early awareness can identify possible problems and prevent others from escalating.

You can also help smooth the transition by anticipating common concerns that your child might not even be able to articulate. Don’t be afraid to gently probe topics such as those listed below; and if you strike a chord, do not minimize his concerns, regardless of how unlikely they seem to you. Instead, talk them through until he’s comfortable. At that age, comfortable is often signaled by change of subject or boredom with what you’re saying. Don’t be offended. Recognize it for what it is, and move on. If you have more to say on any of these topics, you can always circle back when the next opportunity presents itself.

Common Concerns

Specific issues that may surface as your child begins elementary school include:

  • Fear of being bullied (“picked on”)
  • Difficulty handling longer school days
  • Separation anxiety
  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of other children
  • Fear of teachers/authority figures
  • Fear of school bus or other transportation-related issues
  • Fear of looking “dumb”
  • Evidence of being overwhelmed by classroom or extracurricular activities
Take Action
  • Many concerns about starting school can be allayed simply by talking about them openly. For young children who may not be able to articulate what’s bothering them, gentle prompting will likely reveal fears and anxieties. Use the list above to guide your discussion.
  • When you identify particular concerns, respond with concrete steps you and he can take to deal with them.
  • Use your childhood experiences or those of older siblings as examples of how to overcome problems, real or imagined.