Back to School Tip #5: Lost at School – Literally?
If your child is changing schools, and especially if they are going into a new middle school or high school, they may be very anxious about not knowing their way around.
Although all kids have some level of anxiety about going to a new school — and you can remind your child that all kids are a bit nervous about the first week — kids with Executive Dysfunction really have more cause to be concerned, as their risk of getting lost navigating the new building and changing classes is higher than other kids’.
Here are some tips to help your child deal with the “What If I Get Lost or Am Late for Class” Anxiety Disorder:
- Conduct practice drives or walks going to the new school so that your child feels confident that they know the route both to school and back home from home.
- If you will be picking up your child from school, show them where they should look for you and what they should do if they do not see you there.
- Try to arrange for a walk-through of the school before school opens. Although many schools will have already provided one at the end of the last year school year, an individual walk-through – preferably with a teacher or school administrator – may help your child feel a bit less anxious about walking around the building. They will also know at least one adult in the building, which can also help them feel a bit less anxious.
- Go online to the school’s web site if your school has one and see what information, map, or pictures they have online that you can look at with your child.
- If you are not sure whether there will be a special orientation for new students, call the school office to find out so you can tell your child whether to expect an orientation session.
- Tell your child that teachers understand that students get lost the first week and that if they are lost, to go to the nearest adult and politely ask for directions or help. Have practice drills to rehearse what they will do and say if they are lost in the building. I usually tell my patients to put on the “cute smile” they use when they want something from their mom or dad and say to an adult, “Hi, I’m totally lost. Can you tell me how to get to…..?”
- Don’t assume. Although it may be obvious to us that classrooms with three-digit numbers that begin with 2 are on the second floor while room numbers that begin with 1 are on the first floor, your child may not know that numbering convention. Tell them that when they look at their schedule, the first digit tells them whether their room is on the first or second floor.
- If your child has an older sibling who is already in the school, ask the older sibling to give the younger child some tips about getting around the building. The older sibling may be able to tell the younger child whether building wings are color-coded or if there are any other navigation cues that will help during the first week. One of my more anxious patients was terribly anxious during the first week of school because she kept getting lost and did not get to most of her classes on time. She was quite relieved when she asked her older brother for help and he said, “Everyone gets lost in that building at the beginning. Don’t worry — you’ll all eventually figure it out.” He then went over her schedule with her and she wrote out which way she should turn when she came out of each classroom to get to the next classroom.
- When your child gets their class schedule, have them call some friends from last year to see if they are in any of the same classes or can walk together to some classes.
- Teach your child that at the end of one class period, they can ask, “Is anyone going to _____ next?” And if someone says “Yes,” say, “Great — let’s walk together.” Of course, that’s no guarantee that the other student knows where he’s going, but you can remind your child that if they get lost together, at least it’s a shared experience that they will be able to laugh about later.