Bittersweet time of year

These books help children identify emotions and thoughts about going back to school.  “My Many Colored Days” by Dr. Seuss. “I Can Handle It” by Laurie Wright. “Scared at School: Robbie” by Kate Moore.

It’s that time of year, and I don’t mean blueberry picking. Rather, it’s the time of year when every family is starting to have an equal mix of joy and dread about the upcoming school year. For some, it comes with the excitement of Christmas; to be back on a schedule, it brings back routine and organization. For many others, it brings dread because they know the angst, the anxiety and the sadness with having to say good-bye to their child.

Some children have a hard time going to school. Not because they can’t be away from their parents, they don’t have friends or don’t like school, but simply because they suffer from anxiety that is super difficult for them to navigate. A young child showing anxiety can look like separation anxiety, crying a lot at drop off, overly sensitive, waking a lot, not using the bathroom at school and having meltdowns or tantrums. There can be other signs as well.

As the adults in these little humans’ lives, it’s our jobs to help them find tools to navigate the hard stuff. Making worry dolls is a great tool. Worry dolls originated in Guatemala, and the story goes that people would tell the little tiny dolls their worries, place the dolls under their pillows before they fell asleep and their worries would be gone in the morning. Worry Dolls can be bought at stores like Ten Thousand Villages. You can also make them using small sticks about two inches long and wind embroidery floss around them, then adding the eyes and nose.  

When I did this activity with a little friend, we made about five and then made a pouch. She used the worry dolls before a performance she was feeling anxious about.  

Another idea for the anxious child is putting an affirmation in their lunch box or backpack. A statement that says, “You are doing great,” or “You are so kind.” This can go a long way for a child.  

As a parent of an anxious child who is preparing for back to school, the best thing you can do is validate their feelings. Remind them regularly you are proud of them.  

I can put myself back to that place in a heartbeat: new clothes, new shoes, a new backpack, the smell of the classrooms. I would be sent to bed earlier than my summer bedtime and unable to fall asleep and would wake up what felt like 800 times. The morning was met with about 20-bathroom visits from a nervous belly, and off I would go to school way too early for fear I would be late. For me, anxiety would usually last for a few days and subside. However, some children feel this way frequently.   

Check-in with your kiddos and set them up for success. Good luck on your first day of school!

Ellen Drolette, owner of Sunshine Daydream Child Care, has been an early educator for 24 years. Named one of 50 master leaders in the world by Exchange magazine in 2015 and a global leader in early care and education for the World Forum Foundation. She is co-owner of Positive Spin, LLC, offering professional development and empowerment workshops. Reach Ellen at

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