How to Ease Your Kids’ Anxieties

Certain rites of passage―first day of school, first flushed goldfish―are stress-inducing. Here’s how to help your children deal with them.

  • Erin Zammett Ruddy

The First ... Day of Kindergarten

How to handle it: “The kids who tend to do best are those who have come to school beforehand and familiarized themselves with the teacher and the classroom,” says Louise Lang, who has taught kindergarten or first grade in Huntington, New York, for 25 years. Call your school district’s office to learn about orientation, which is typically held the spring before school starts; often a “practice” bus ride is included. And get your child excited: Read going-to-kindergarten books; point at buses going by. Then give it some time. “This is a big adjustment for kids, and some may take until December before they feel completely comfortable,” says Lang.

And for heaven’s sake, do not: Pull a Steven Spielberg. “I once had a dad follow the bus with his video camera the entire way to school. Then he filmed the kid getting off the bus, walking down to the classroom, hanging up his coat,” says Lang, who also had a parent who hid in the bushes and peeked in the classroom windows. Besides being embarrassing for the child, creating too much of a fuss will add to the anxiety he might already feel.

The First ... Sibling

How to handle it: Get the child eager to meet the new baby before she gets there, says Michelle Duggar, a Springdale, Arkansas, mom who knows a thing or two about welcoming a new addition into the family (she’s the mother of 18; see for yourself in the TLC reality series 18 Kids and Counting). “I let them talk to my belly and tell them the baby can hear them,” says Duggar. With all that buildup, you have to be careful when the baby comes home, as kids tend to be aggressive with their attention. Duggar has her children practice holding their dolls and teaches them to kiss on the back of the head and be gentle. Even with this training, have someone stand guard. “Without fail, the 16-month-old wants to touch the baby’s eyes,” says Duggar. Finally, says Dawn Huebner, Ph.D., a child psychologist in Exeter, New Hampshire, and the author of the children’s book What to Do When You Worry Too Much ($16, amazon.com), keep as much the same as possible: “If there is to be a bed change or a room change, have it happen in advance of the baby’s arrival.”

And for heaven’s sake, do not: Forget to carve out quality time with the eldest child. While it’s always great to look for opportunities for him to be the big helper, give him one-on-one time, too.