How you can help your child prepare for school: an interview with Dr. Schteingart

September 10, 2020 | Emily Ford Sytsma

You’ve heard it over and over again: this school year is unlike any other. It’s not unusual for children to feel some anxiety about the beginning of school, and that is especially true for this school year. In this video, Emily Sytsma, our Early Childhood Director interviews Dr. Judith Schteingart, our school counselor, about how you can help your children manage anxiety about returning to school. 

Here are some notes from the interview:

  • Educate and empower. Remind your child that we take precautions to help the most vulnerable members of our wider community (those who may already have another sickness like a problem with their heart or lungs or who are elderly and more weak/frail). Review what they will be doing to reduce the spread. Being proactive can go a long way in countering feelings of anxiety and helplessness.  


  • Empathize and normalize. Just like wearing masks now feels more of our way of life than we could have imagined six months ago, the new school routines likely will as well. One of our greatest human qualities is our ability to adapt. A mental shift takes time, we’ll get there. Students are not alone: their classmates and friends are all feeling similarly to some degree. We’re all going through it together.


  • Build in some calming and coping strategies for when you child is feeling anxious. Find some helpful ways to calm down. Here are just a few strategies that you can share with your child:  take deep breaths, think about what you will do next, exercise/expend energy, drink some water, get a hug, draw or play, write in a journal, do yoga or mindfulness together. Building up a daily habit can keep stress at bay for your children as well as for yourself!


  • Maintain an open dialogue. Children need information to get their bearings and feel things are under control. At the same time, too much information can be overwhelming. The trick is to find the right balance. Keep in mind your child’s development level. A best practice is to use their own questions as a guide. Recognize that not every child likes to talk about their worries, but they still welcome knowing you are there for them. It is more important to be a steady presence open for conversation than asking and seeking answers about their thoughts/feelings.  Find time for a daily one-on-one interaction. You can talk, play, read or watch something interactively. It is helpful if you can make time to do this when you aren’t distracted by work or other things. 


  • Keep perspective. Remember this transition and the feelings/behaviors that go with it are temporary. Keeping this in mind will help you maintain an even keel and help your kids recognize this as well.


  • Seek support if needed. Anxiety may wax and wane but should decrease over the first month or two of school. If it doesn’t or if the anxiety seems especially intense, let your teacher know so we can help support you and your child.

Emily Ford Sytsma

Early Childhood Director

Ms. Sytsma began her career as an educator working in inclusive classrooms in the state of Hawaii but found her roots began to grow here at Mustard Seed School when she came to teach in 1996. She joined the preschool team in 2007, after teaching for many years in the Middle School. She finds delight in the preschool’s approach to teaching and learning, inspired by the preschools in Reggio Emilia, Italy. As Early Childhood Director, she seeks to support teachers in their work helping children learn about thinking and creative expression.

Ms. Sytsma’s the mother of a MSS alum and a current student. When not at school, Ms. Sytsma enjoys traveling with her husband and two children. She tends a very simple rooftop garden in Jersey City Heights and on long Saturday mornings, she may be seen taking long walks along the Hudson River and listening to audiobooks or podcasts while organizing her thoughts and getting her heart rate up.

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