How to Ease Your Child’s Back-to-School Worries
The Back-to-School Worries
September is around the corner, which also means the end of the summer holidays and back to school! It is normal for children and teens to have some nervousness about returning to school, such as the following thoughts:
- Who will my teacher be?
- Will I be in the same class as my best friends?
- Who will I eat lunch with?
- Will I understand the work?
- Will I fit in?
- (For teens) What will others think of me?
- (For younger children) What if something bad happens to Mom or Dad while I’m not with them?
It is imperative that your child attend school. Avoidance fuels anxiety and reinforces irrational and catastrophic thinking. Facing one’s fears builds the crucial Cs of: Capability and Courage. Attending school fosters Connection and an opportunity to feel Counted. (For more information on the 4Cs, please refer to my previous post on Developing the 4Cs)
What Are Some Signs that My Child May Be Experiencing Back-to-School Anxiety?
Anxiety can show up in many shapes and forms. As we get closer to school returning, your child/teen may exhibit the following behaviours:
- extra clinging
- excessive whining/crying
- temper tantrums
- extra oppositional
- stomach aches
- decreased or increased appetite
- sleep difficulties
- lots of questions
- “butterflies” or “worms” in stomach
Children take their cues from their parents, therefore it is very important that we are calm and confident in our child’s abilities to handle his/her nervousness. It’s important not to provide excessive reassurance as this reinforces the anxiety. It’s more effective to validate their feelings and focus on problem solving. However, problem solving does not mean dismissing their worries.
For example, if your child is worried about who to play with on the playground, a possible strategy for the first few days could be to wait in line for the swings. It’s also important to provide opportunities to discuss their fears underlying the aforementioned behaviours. Some children may prefer 1:1 talks at bed-time, others may prefer to walk and talk, or chat while going for a drive in the car.
What Are Some Pro-Active Strategies for a More Successful Transition Back to School?
- Nutrition – be sure your child/teen is eating some healthy food
- Sleep – summer activities/social events often send sleep schedules awry, but now is the time to start getting back onto a school schedule and being consistent with evening sleep routines. It’s also a good idea to get your child/teen an alarm clock (not using cell phones as an alarm clock as cell phones in bedrooms is never advised) and have them start using it now!
- Exercise – exercise is a good de-stressor
- Friends – organize going to school with friends – at least for the first few days
- Back-to-School Shopping Trip – plan a fun trip for school supplies, clothing, shoes and perhaps a new backpack
- Baking and Lunch Planning – do some back-to-school baking which can be frozen and brought out each day for school lunches. Involve your child in the planning of what he/she would like for lunch
- Hang Out at the School – for younger children, go the school playground for some play-time and do this several times before school starts. For older children, plan a soccer or baseball game with the family or friends at the school. Just being on the school property helps with the de-sensitization process.
- Tour the School or Website – See if you can take a walk around the school. If you speak to the principal ahead of time and explain that you are trying to decrease your child’s school anxiety, you may be able to meet your child’s teacher and view the classroom. In addition, exploring the school’s website can be a non-threatening way to explore floor plans, teachers’ faces, photos of groups of students etc.
- Write a List of Your Child’s Previous Successes – If your child is anxious now, he/she has most likely been anxious before. Use evidence to fight irrational fears. Remind your child of other times that he/she felt nervous and how he/she faced his/her fears and did it!
- Plan Ahead re: Transport to School on the First Day – if your child is taking a bus to school/university, it would be a good idea to try out the bus route before the first day of school. If your child is more likely to have separation anxiety with one parent vs. the other, plan for the parent for whom there is less separation anxiety to take your child to school, if possible for the first week
- Read books which illustrate the irrational side of anxiety: Scaredy Squirrel books, Parts and More Parts by Tedd Arnold, Mr. Worry and Mr. Nervous by Roger Hargreaves, What Was I Afraid Of? by Dr. Seuss (*It’s glow-in-the-dark, if you read it with a flashlight), and The School of Fear series (ages 9-12 yrs.) by Gitty Daneshvari. (*If you can recommend other books, PLEASE enter their titles in the comment section below so everyone can benefit.) I recommend all of these books because they are fun vs. contrived.
- Read books which convey confidence and capability: Pete the Cat books including Pete the Cat Goes to School. Check out the You Tube version.
- Read books which emphasize attachment: The Invisible String by Patrice Karst, The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn and Love You Forever by Robert Munsch
I hope you have a wonderful last week and a half of summer holidays!
*If this article inspires you, please consider forwarding to friends and family or sharing through Facebook, Twitter (my Twitter handle is @child_family) or Email. Thank you!
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