Coping With First Day Jitters: Not Just for Kids!
For me, the first day of work always comes with anticipation. What will it be like? Will everyone like me? Will anyone talk to me? Will I miss my old friends? Will people want to work with me? I can tell you thinking about my first day made me nervous. The bags under my eyes were definitely visual proof!
One of the most uncomfortable feelings I have as an adult is coming into a room where I don’t know anyone. It’s almost as bad as when I’m waiting for an event to begin and wondering if anyone is really going to show up. The anticipation creates this nervous energy – call it the jitters.
As an adult, I know how to calm my jitters – most times. How do you manage yours? Now try to imagine how a child manages theirs. At a very young age, our children look to us to see how we manage our jitters. If we are stressed, they will likely become stressed. If we are prepared to take it in, they will likely use the same strategy. It’s the bond we create, the emotion we embrace.
I know for my own children when they were young, the start of school or a new program had the potential to bring out a surprising behavior or two. It would always click with me when an unexpected tantrum or tears over a seemingly minute change in plan would happen. If I was lucky, in the thick of the emotion, I would remember, “Oh yeah! Something new is coming up….” Once it hit me, I would start to ask questions. What do you think your first day will be like? Do you remember your new teacher’s name? Are you excited to meet new friends? To see old ones? I can tell you that this did not work every time but talking through the fear of the unknown is always helped. Each year brought a new set of worries but laying the foundation with communication is what has worked, most times, for us. (By the way, now that they are older and in high school and leaving for college, this strategy is not nearly as effective as I am figuring out.) With every stage there is an adjustment.
Finding the time and energy to proactively work with your child and provide tools to manage new situations can sometimes be difficult—but incredibly worthwhile to do together. I think one of my favorite strategies this year has been a notebook of upcoming events and corresponding concerns one of the Elaine Frank Apachi campers started in anticipation of this upcoming school year. This truly is a valuable exercise that you can use with your children to talk through, neutralize and create coping strategies for their fears—or in my case, my own!
When I decided to write this blog, that even gave me the jitters! Thankfully most times it leaves me as soon as I become wrapped up in the emotion of the experience. Over the past month I’ve spent training with our JCC Early Childhood team as we prepare for the new school year and it’s a funny feeling when you enter into an already formed group; that old fear of the unknown thing nags at you. And it’s the best feeling when you feel like it’s a group you have always been a part of and just like that, the new team has warmly welcomed me. So while my worrying was for naught, sharing my approach to managing my fears has helped me prepare for my first days at Lake County JCC and I hope provides helpful coping strategies you can use to ready your child for the new school year.
Lisa Spewak is the new Director at Jacob Duman Early Childhood at Lake County JCC. She has more than 25 years of Early Childhood experience as an educator and director. She holds a Bachelor of Arts & Sciences in Early Childhood Education from National-Louis University.