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'But Why' host Jane Lindholm shares tips for students worried about starting school

Two people walking with children outside of a school
AP/Alden Pellett
Vermont kids are heading back to school this week. For some, it can be a scary time. Jane Lindholm has some tips to help.

Whether you’ve been the adult tearing your hair out to get your kids ready for the start of the school year, or a commuter driving by as they wait impatiently for the school bus, you’re probably aware that it’s back-to-school time.

Many kids have a few days under their belts now, but the school year jitters may still be lingering. So, we wanted to discuss ways to help with anxiety and fear at the start of the school year.

Vermont Public's Jenn Jarecki sat down with Jane Lindholm, host of the Vermont Public podcast But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. The show answers questions from kids worldwide and has a great episode about how to deal with the fear of starting school. Their conversation is below and has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Jenn Jarecki: So I'm curious, what prompted you all to do an episode on back-to-school fear?

Jane Lindholm: We got an email from a kid a couple of years ago who was about to start kindergarten, his name was Odin, and he said "I'm terrified to start school. Do I really have to go to kindergarten? And what do I do? And how do I make friends?" And so, we thought it would be a great idea to ask other kids to help answer Odin's questions. So, we sent this out, and kids around the world sent voice memos back to us to include in the episode about ways to cope with the back-to-school jitters or the start of your school career jitters. And it's just it's super cute, Jen, but also really amazing to hear all of these kids share what works for them.

Can we hear a couple of them? 

Yeah, here are just a couple of my favorites.

Clarissa: Hi, I'm Clarissa, and I am 8 years old and I live in Ottawa, Canada. What I did for the first day of kindergarten was that I reminded myself that my teacher will always help me and that I am brave and confident.

Anthony: Hi, my name is Anthony. I'm 8 years old. I live in San Diego, California. And my best tip to not be afraid to go back to school is to think of all the happy thoughts. For example, you could think of playing with new friends and finally be able to play on the playground again.

Kids know what works and doesn't work for them. And so they are, in some ways, the best people to offer advice to other young people.
Jane Lindholm

Jane, for some of us, it may have been a while since we had a first day of school. Can you tell us what can make it scary to head back into the classroom?

Well, I think the first thing is just think about how scary it is for you as an adult to do new things. Even if it's returning to something. I mean, think about if you work in an office, and you've recently come back into the office — that can feel a little nerve-wracking, or you have a presentation to do in front of people who you don't know, those are really nerve-wracking things. So, I like to put it in our own brains because as humans, we often like to think of ourselves. And even as adults, it can be scary to do this kind of thing. So for kids, it can be even more scary and often feel even less like something they have control over. They are told to go to school, they are told when to go to school, they're told who their teacher is, they are told who their classmates may be. And so, just acknowledging that this is a big transition for kids and that it is scary for all of us to do new things can help us put our minds into the brains of the young people that we love that are in our households who are trying to navigate this really interesting and anxiety-producing time.

Jane, you mentioned that But Why received, you know, voice memos from kids all over the world on this subject. Did any of your young listeners suggest strategies to avoid being scared when going to school?

 Photograph of Jane Lindholm from 2022
Vermont Public
Jane Lindholm hosts Vermont Public's "But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids"

Yeah, they did. Kids know what works and doesn't work for them. And so they are, in some ways, the best people to offer advice to other young people. And they had a lot of tips and strategies, and some were different. Some kids said, see if you can bring a favorite stuffed animal to school with you. Maybe you have to keep it in your backpack because of school rules. But you'll know it's there. Some of them said, just try to approach your teacher because your teacher is there to help you. And so, you should know that you always have a teacher there to help. We heard Clarissa telling us that. Some kids had things that you can think about that can help you feel better, like all of the exciting new things you're going to be doing. We got this one from Tejas in Canberra, Australia that I really liked.

Tejas: My name is Tejas, I am 10 years old, and I am from Canberra, Australia. I like playing with my friends at break time, and I love doing mats. If you're scared about school, just remember your friends will be feeling the same way and they will be happy to see you. And you'll probably have lots of fun together.

What I love about that is you know, Tejas is remembering and reminding people that other kids are scared too. So, even if other kids are putting up a good front, they're probably just as nervous as you are, and realizing that you're all in the same boat can help you cope.

You also spoke to a guidance counselor and a teacher about this. What did they share about getting over the first-week jitters?

Yeah, Christie Nold was one of the people we talked to. She was a teacher in South Burlington when we had her on the show, and she reminded us that even teachers aren't immune to first day jitters.

Christine Nold: Even though I'm going in for my eighth time, I still get nervous too. The thing that I want you to know about this school year is that we don't really know what to expect. And although that might sound scary, what I also want you to know is that we're in it together, that we care about you, that your teachers are going to be there for you, and that as students, you can be there for each other as well. I hope that you have a great year, and I hope you'll find ways to calm your nerves as the year goes on.

But why icon
Vermont Public
But Why is a show led by kids! They ask the questions and the But Why team finds the answers.

And Jenn, we also talked with a guidance counselor named Tosha Todd who works in Missouri, and Tasha had some really great advice, especially for younger children, for ways to cope with those early school season feelings of anxiety.

Tosha Todd: If it helps, you get have your parent, place a small object that is special to you in your backpack, so it is with you and close on your first day. Just make sure you don't get it out of your backpack without asking your teacher. You can also make a hug button, have your parent draw a heart on the inside of your hand, and on the inside of their hand, hold hands to charge your hug buttons. If you feel sad or miss them while you are at school, press your hug button, and it will send you a hug.

Jane, you are also the parent of two amazing kids. Have you ever had a kiddo afraid to go to school? And if so, what did you all do?

My kids haven't been afraid to go to school, which is great. I love that they are confident and ready to go to school. But for my family, there is some anxiety whether they want to express it or not. And it can often be a challenging few days leading up to the start of school. And again, I think about what happens when I'm preparing for a big talk or presentation, my nervousness can lead me to be a little short-tempered or distracted, and it's no different for kids. So even now, for families that have kids that may have been in school for a few days — they have a long weekend, you know, then they have to go back, it can be really hard. So, if there are short tempers, that could be a sign of anxiety. And that's just something you have to ride out.

You know, you have to be willing to understand that there's a lot going on for the little people in your lives, and even for the bigger kids. You know, you may have teenagers who are going back to school who perhaps don't want to admit that they're nervous or don't want to talk about it. And I think it can be helpful to share that you get nervous too, and to be open to them sharing their feelings, but not make them talk about it if they don't want to. Sort of let kids in your house determine when and how they want to share their anxiety but just try as hard as it is, certainly it's really hard for me to maybe cut them some slack if things are not going quite as smoothly as normal.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
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