How to help your children with Back to School anxiety
As the school holidays come to an end, and a new school year starts, you may have a child who is starting to have feelings of anxiety and worries as back to school day get closer. It’s been a while since my children were heading back to school, but I do remember all the […]
As the school holidays come to an end, and a new school year starts, you may have a child who is starting to have feelings of anxiety and worries as back to school day get closer. It’s been a while since my children were heading back to school, but I do remember all the preparation it took; getting school books covered (the less said about that the better!), buying new school shoes, lunch boxes, and all of the other items required on the school list! Throw into the mix, one of your children having worries about returning to school, or starting school for the first time, and this can feel overwhelming.
Are my child’s worries normal?
If you think about any new situation you may have had, you probably had some feelings come up that may have been uncomfortable. Our brains are wired for danger, so any new situation can bring up these anxious feelings. Anxious feelings are normal during the start of a new school year, whether your child is starting school for the first time, going into a new grade at Primary school, starting High School, or a new Year level. Your child may have all sorts of worries which are common, such as:
- What if I don’t like my new teacher?
- Will I be able to find my classroom?
- What if I don’t have all the right pencils?
- What if no one will play with me?
- What if I miss Mum and/or Dad?
- What if Mum is late picking me up from school, or she doesn’t show up?
- What if I need to go to the toilet during class time?
- Will I have any of my friends in my class?
- Will the work be too hard?
As a Mum of three children (now young adults), I think one of the hardest things I had to do was to learn acceptance – acceptance that I couldn’t take my children’s worries away (this doesn’t change now they are adults). It’s painful to see your child struggling with worries, feelings and thoughts, and I know for me, I would have loved to be able to take their pain away. I learnt that my children needed to learn how to problem solve, and to build their resilience skills. Even though your child may be struggling with returning to school, or attending for the first time, it is important not to go down the road of avoiding and not attending school. Avoidance will in fact, make the issues worse, and reinforce any worries your child might have. The more avoidance, the harder it is for your child to attend school. Even though your child may be struggling, they need to learn how to work with their worries.
Some of the behaviours your child may have
You may notice that your child has certain behaviours, statements, or asking questions such as:
- How many days left of the holidays Mum? What day do we go back to school?
- Do I have to go back to school?
- I might be sick the day school goes back
- Groaning when the ‘Back to School’ ads come on the TV
- Complaining about headaches or stomach aches
- Clingy behaviour
- Feelings of irritability
What can you do to help your child on a practical level?
With the long school holidays, and lack of normal time schedule, your family may be out of the everyday routine. You may have let the normal screen-time hours, bedtime, and meal-times lapse whilst in holiday mode. It’s important to start getting back into the routine at least one week before starting school so that your child’s body clock can get back into the normal routine. Everyone in the family will need to adjust to the regular routine again. Along with getting back to the normal routine, you can start planning ‘back to school’ tasks with your child such as:
- Planning school lunches and shopping for healthy snacks, or having some cooking sessions together
- Shopping for new shoes, uniforms, and other school supplies
- Packing the school bag with the supplies
- Plan the times you will need to set the alarm for (allow extra time for the first couple of weeks)
What can you do to help your child on an emotional level?
As mentioned earlier, giving reassurance to your child’s worries can actually increase their worries, and is also dismissing how they are actually feeling. Some strategies you can use instead include:
- Problem-solving together such as saying to your child, “How do you think you might be able to handle that?” “What are some other ways you could deal with that?” “I can’t take your worries away, but let’s think about some things you could do if _____that happened?”
- Notice your own feelings and behaviours (you may be feeling sad that your child is going to school)
- Have you given yourself enough time to get ready on the first morning?
- Notice that you might be feeling like you want to take your child’s worries away.
- Even if you feel like crying, be consistent and show confidence (I remember the first days of school with my children). Say “goodbye” to your child and leave. Do not prolong the goodbyes.
- Acknowledge your child’s worries such as, “I notice that you are feeling worried about going to school. I want to hear about your worries.” Use the problem-solving skills here.
- Allow your child some choices from a list of snacks, packed lunches or type of pencil case/backpack.
- Tell your child that you will have a particular time set aside that they can talk about any worries or problems that came up for them during the day.
- Practice relaxation strategies such as mindfulness (http://www.claresillencecounselling.com.au/mindfulness/mindfulness-for-children/)
- Practice breathing with them such as imagining you have a balloon in your belly and you are trying to inflate it and then deflate it (balloon breathing), imagine a birthday cake with ten candles on it, and you have to breathe in and then blow each of the candles out separately.
What if none of the above works?
If you have tried different strategies, and are noticing that the worries are not going away, you may want to seek out professional help. Some of the signs to look for include:
- Sleeping difficulties (once you are back into the school routine);
- Problems with eating;
- “Over the top” catastrophizing of situations;
- The worries are persisting and remaining the same, or becoming more intense
- Lack of concentration to tasks;
- Physiological problems such as headaches and stomach aches or nausea are persisting or becoming more intense.
Please contact a mental health professional if you notice that any of the above signs are persisting or intensifying. You can contact me via the website www.claresillencecounselling.com.au or book directly online at www.papillonwellness.com.au