The First Day of School jitters

SchoolAnyone with children knows the anxiety behind the initial interview and effort that goes into getting your child into the best school. Can parents alleviate this stress? HEALTH finds out…

When Maria’s son was born, she was surprised that people advised her to look for a suitable school from the day he was born. She tells, “I initially found it funny.  But as my son Zack became older, I began to get worried about the schooling process. When we initiated the interview process, I was so nervous and jittery that poor Zack became irritated. He managed to get into the school we wanted but in retrospect I wonder if so much stress and tension was necessary for such a small child?”

The biggest anxiety for parents, tells Carmen Benton, Parenting Educator, at LifeWorks Personal Development Training Centre, mostly is selecting a school they believe best for their child and then the fear of not being able to get into it due to a long wait list and tough selection process. “Essentially the only option for parents due to the system in Dubai is to place their child on the wait list for several schools and go through the application and assessment for each,” she says and as such, there is no way to make the anxiety of getting into a school in Dubai easy.

The First Day of School Stressors

Children being out of routine during the holiday period are a big stressor and for this, Benton advises that you re-establish a good routine for your children at least a week before school is back. “Make sure the times they go to bed, get up and eat match those of school,” she says and very importantly, get back into reading every night. Another stressor is children being nervous about who will be in their class. In this regards, Benton suggests to try and set up play dates with school friends or at least play dates with friends from other schools of a similar age.

The Pressure is on

Today the expectations placed on children can be too high, points out Benton. “Formal instruction starts too early for some children and the pressure becomes too great for those not ready,” she says and classrooms, especially in the early years, for those under age seven, have too many children, at a time when children need one-on-one support from trained and qualified teachers. Children still have a high need to learn in an active way and school can have children learning in a passive way, sitting at a desk doing drill written work for too long. These issues, she says, when combined, can create a lack of love for school and learning for many children.


Children who do better in a more holistic method of learning will struggle to find that in Dubai. “Schools in Dubai also offer limited support, in general, to those with needs above or below the average,” she says as children also need smaller more intimate settings which have more of a community base where each teacher knows each child in the school and in this way it can mimic a family setting. Dubai schools, tells Benton, are more like small cities than small intimate settings.

What Parents Can Do

Talk and listen to your child. Ask them how they are feeling and listen to them as the reality is that they may not be as anxious as you, or they may have many fears.

Meet your child where they are emotionally and offer your support by listening and then validate their feelings.

Also help them feel prepared and create a sense of excitement about the new school year. Activities such as uniform shopping, purchasing a new lunch box and school bag can be a big part of this process. (Credit: Carmen Benton)

Children Joining a New School:

Typical stressors include:

  1. What does it look like?
  2. Who will my teacher be?
  3. Will I make any friends?

Benton’s advice: “Visit the school and walk around, the office staff are back several weeks before school. Give your child a chance to go there without all the other children there to get a feel for the school, even if you have visited it already. Have a look at the photos of the teachers often posted in the office or a year book and help your child see that their teacher will be either one of these people, or part of this team. Talk with your child about how to make new friends and give them skills and strategies.”

Quick Tips for Parents to Alleviate the First Day of School Stress:

  1. Go to bed early the night before. Have a calm and peaceful few days before.
  2. Be prepared the night before: pack your school bag, make your lunch and get your uniform out ready to go.
  3. Make sure you leave early that first day. It is essential to be on time and not rushing, as this creates more stress.
  4. Try and ensure, as a parent, you can stay a little longer to help with any settling in experiences.
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