How Teachers Can Ease Students' First Day Jitters


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As elementary school teachers, we can sometimes find ourselves easing our young students through times of transition. For some children, the first day of school brings anxiety and an intense desire to cling to parents. This is known as First Day Jitters, and it's a natural occurrence that we may even have experienced ourselves when we were children.

Beyond whole class Ice Breaker activities, it's important to be aware of the following simple strategies that teachers can employ to help young students feel comfortable in their new classrooms and ready to learn in school all year long.

Introduce a Buddy

Sometimes one friendly face is all it takes to help a child transition from tears to smiles. Find a more outgoing, confident student to introduce to the nervous child as a buddy who will help him or her learn about the new surroundings and routines.

Partnering up with a peer is a practical shortcut to helping a child feel more at home in a new classroom. The buddies should stay connected during recess and lunch for at least the first week of school. After that, make sure the student is meeting lots of new people and making several new friends at school.

Give the Child Responsibility

Help the anxious child feel useful and part of the group by giving him or her a simple responsibility to help you out. It could be something as simple as erasing the whiteboard or counting out colored construction paper.

Children often crave acceptance and attention from their new teacher; so by showing them you rely on them for a certain task, you are instilling confidence and purpose during a critical time. Plus, staying busy will help the child focus on something concrete outside of his or her own feelings at that moment.

Share Your Own Story

Nervous students can make themselves feel even worse by imagining that they are the only ones who feel so worried about the first day of school. Consider sharing your own first day of school story with the child in order to reassure him or her that such feelings are common, natural, and surmountable.

Personal stories make teachers appear more human and approachable to children. Make sure you mention specific strategies you used to overcome your feelings of anxiety and suggest the child try the same techniques.

Give a Classroom Tour

Help the child feel more comfortable in his or her new surroundings by offering a short guided tour of the classroom. Sometimes, just seeing his or her desk can go a long way toward easing uncertainty. Focus on all of the fun activities that will happen around the classroom that day and all year long.

If possible, ask the child's advice for a certain detail, such as where best to place a potted plant or what color construction paper to use on a display. Helping the child feel connected to the classroom will help him or she visualizes life in the new space.

Set Expectations with Parents

Often, parents exacerbate nervous children by hovering, fretting, and refusing to leave the classroom. Children pick up on parental ambivalence and perhaps will be just fine once they're left on their own with their classmates.

Don't indulge these "helicopter" parents and allow them to stay past the school bell. Politely (but firmly) tell the parents as a group, "Ok, parents. We're going to get our school day started now. See you at 2:15 for pickup! Thank you!" You are the leader of your classroom and it's best to take the lead, setting healthy boundaries and productive routines that will last all year long.

Address the Whole Class

Once the school day gets started, address the whole class about how we're all feeling jittery today. Assure the students that these feelings are normal and will fade with time. Say something along the lines of, "I'm nervous, too, and I'm the teacher! I get nervous every year on the first day!" By addressing the whole class as a group, the anxious student won't feel singled out.

Read a Book About First Day Jitters:

Find a children's book that covers the topic of first-day anxiety. A popular one is called First Day Jitters. Or, consider Mr. Ouchy's First Day which is about a teacher with a bad case of back to school nerves. Literature provides insight and comfort for a wide variety of situations, and first-day jitters are no exception. So work it to your advantage by using the book as a springboard for discussing the issue and how to deal with it effectively

Compliment the Student

At the end of the first day, reinforce positive behavior by telling the student that you noticed how well he or she did that day. Be specific and sincere, but not overly indulgent. Try something like, "I noticed how you played with the other kids at recess today. I'm so proud of you! Tomorrow's going to be great!"

You might also try complimenting the student in front of his or her parents at pickup time. Be careful not to give this special attention for a long while; after the first week or so of school, it's important for the child to start feeling confident on his or her own, not dependent upon teacher praise.

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Your Citation
Lewis, Beth. "How Teachers Can Ease Students' First Day Jitters." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Lewis, Beth. (2023, April 5). How Teachers Can Ease Students' First Day Jitters. Retrieved from Lewis, Beth. "How Teachers Can Ease Students' First Day Jitters." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 11, 2023).