For many of us, back to school means excitement about a new class, new school year, new teachers, and new things to learn. However, for many children, back to school can be an incredibly stressful situation. The multitude of changes can cause a certain degree of anxiety in a lot of kids. Therefore, this article focuses on how parents can support their children if they suspect that back to school is creating anxiety for them.
First of all, it is important to acknowledge that feelings of anxiety are totally normal for many children when experiencing this transition back to school. In order to identify back to school anxiety for your children, look out for signs that they are nervous. Sometimes children cannot always express their concerns in words. In many cases, especially with younger children, anxiety about back to school can display itself as clinginess, crying, symptoms of physical illness such as stomach or headaches and general irritability.
Common worries for children regarding back to school can include:
- Who will be my new teacher?
- What if my new teacher is mean?
- Will I make friends or have friends in my class?
- Who will I sit with?
- What if I can’t understand the new schoolwork?
- What if something bad happens to mom or dad while I am at school?
Although as parents we can be tempted to let children skip school in order to protect them from their worries and emotional discomfort, this can lead the problem to become worse as it enables avoidance tactics and does not force children to challenge their unrealistic fears.
How to alleviate back to school anxiety?
So what should we do to support children experiencing back to school anxiety? Anxiety Canada recommends some general steps and strategies that can be beneficial:
- Start with the basics: it is easier to cope with anxiety if your body and brain are well nourished. Do your best to make sure your anxious child is getting enough sleep and eating regular, healthy meals. Predictable home routines are also helpful for children with anxiety, as much of their fears come from uncertainty.
- Talk about it: encourage your child to discuss what is causing them fear or anxiety. Tell them that it is normal, that they shouldn’t be embarrassed and that if they share is a safe space, you can work on these worries together.
- Problem-solve and plan: instead of reassuring your child that everything is going to be okay, work on ways to problem solve with them. This means identify things that they think will be triggers for their anxiety and talk about strategies for responding. This helps to take some of the uncertainty out of their day. Having a plan for different scenarios helps children to feel like back to school might be more predictable and easier to cope with.
- Make sure the conversation is not just about anxiety: have your child focus on some of the positive aspects for back to school. Have them choose these positives if possible so that they have something to look forward to.
- Pay attention to your own behaviour: sometimes unintentionally as parents we can transfer our worries to our children. Even if you are worrying about your child, try to be supportive and show confidence in front of them. If you lead with this example, children can often take cues from parents to help reduce their own anxiety.