The start of school can be scary for students, parents and staff. How do we manage this powerful feeling of scared?

Understanding this feeling is important as we adjust to the first few months of the new school year. “Scared” wants us to be safe, so facing the unknown can trigger this feeling. Feeling scared causes many different reactions in our bodies.

We can feel sick or have a rapidly beating heart, or have difficulty sleeping. Often, we express fear with short tempers and hurtful or sarcastic words. The important thing to understand is that scared has a message and wants to keep us safe. New situations don’t feel safe, producing this feeling of apprehension or fear.

Managing Scared: How Parents Can Coach Children Through It

As parents and educators, we must try to see from the child’s point of view and help with scared. We can coach our children when they are triggered. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Help children to recognize and understand their triggers.
  • Remind them of ways they can calm. Take deep breaths with them to teach active calming breathing strategies. You can practice S.T.A.R., Drain, Pretzel and Balloon, or even a breathing exercise the child invents. The important part is to breathe in through the nose with the belly going out, then out through the mouth with the belly going in. The exhale should be longer than the inhale.
  • Remind them, “You are safe,” and, “You can handle this.”
  • Parents can offer children a Safe Place in the home that they can go to when they’re in a state of upset. Ask your child’s teacher where the child can go at school if he or she feels triggered. If the school doesn’t have this resource, offer your child a picture of the home Safe Place. This can help the child visualize what to do when they become upset. Remind them to breathe when they see this picture and say, “You can handle this. You are safe.”

Teachers and schools want children to be successful. Share with them any concerns you or your child are having. Chances are, there are other students feeling the same way!

  • Provide your child with a picture of actions they can take when they feel scared. For example, find a teacher and talk to them, find a friend, or read a book.
  • If possible, give your child a visual schedule of the steps they will go through each day before coming home. This provides a sense of stability and safety.
  • As parents, we often have pictures of our families or loved ones on our phones or desks. Give your child a family picture to carry or put in a notebook to help them calm when they feel scared.

Managing Scared: How Teachers Can Ease Apprehension

As teachers, we can offer a Safe Place to families at the beginning of the year, providing a place where children and parents can calm together. This Safe Place can become a class structure. We can also have a Friends and Family Board for families to post pictures and create a classroom family from the first day.

Classroom visuals help students understand the teacher’s expectations and how they can be successful. Modeling, adding visuals, and practicing (M.A.P.) will help students from the very beginning. For instance, you might post pictures of a three-step process for cleaning up the block area. You would then demonstrate this process and give students opportunities to practice.

Classrooms with specific daily routines create a sense of safety for students. When students know what to expect each day, they will begin to feel safe. Teaching is hard and can often be scary too. Planning and consistency for the students will give teachers and parents a sense of calm as well.

We all feel scared at different times during the school year. Working together as students, parents and teaching staff can dissipate some of those feelings. Creating a working School Family where we all contribute will help us build safety and trust so that we can reach each of our students.

Our children are our future and we want them to reach their highest potential. It starts with the adults in their lives! How will you help children manage scared this year?