Tips to Help Kids with Back to School Anxiety
How do your kids feel about going back to school? The start of the year can be exciting for children, especially if they are coming back to in-person classes. However, for some pupils, the idea of leaving home and their families can be an added source of stress. Seeing a child deal with big emotions can be nerve-racking for parents and guardians too, so here are some tips to cope with separation anxiety and make the return to the classroom a more positive experience for everyone involved.
What causes anxiety?
First of all, it is essential to understand why a child might be nervous to go back to school and communicate with them transparently. Not knowing how to label certain emotions and why your body reacts the way it does can be even scarier and only contribute to amplifying your kid’s concerns.
What are you afraid of? How does your body feel when you think about it? What can I say to help you?
These are all good questions to ask to establish trust and show the child you are willing to help. Explain to them that anxiety is a normal defence mechanism, answer any questions they might have in a straightforward way, and be honest with them about your own fears. Knowing that grown-ups can be anxious too sometimes can be reassuring.
Explore all scenarios
If you find your kid to be focused only on the worst-case scenario, try to help them shift their mindset. Ask them to make a list of everything that could go wrong, chances are it will be highly unlikely that all of those things will happen at once. Instead, direct their attention towards the best-case scenario, reflect together on everything that could go right.
Use positive affirmations
Another useful strategy to deal with negative thoughts can be imagining putting a physical stop to them. Teach your kid to visualise putting a barrier between their thoughts and themselves, and not to overthink the pessimistic thoughts running through their mind by diverting their attention with positive affirmations, such as ‘I can handle this’ or ‘This is scary, but I am strong’.
I want to go home! - How to ease separation anxiety
Having to spend the whole day away from home and parents can be a huge source of anxiety, especially for children just starting school.
Listen to your child’s concerns and assure them they are valid. If you take their worries seriously, they will be more likely to feel safe and understood.
Find a routine
Try to establish a routine before the start of school that you can continue to stick to throughout the year. Make going to school something exciting to look forward to instead of something they should dread. Be the first one to show enthusiasm for the school day ahead, express how proud you are of them for being brave and facing their fears, and use positive language.
Settle for a quick goodbye
Goodbyes are the hardest part, so make sure you don’t spend too much time on them. Before you leave, make sure your kid has been engaged in an activity with other students. Don’t hesitate, be short, straightforward, and honest, for example, ‘I have to go now, but I’ll be back to get you at the end of the day’.
After you have left the classroom, do not come back. Anxious children will often react to a parent leaving with fussing and crying. It is completely natural to want to console them, pick them up, hug them or reassure them. However, this only helps to reinforce their behaviour and can encourage them to prolong their protests instead.
Communicate with teachers
Communicating with teachers is essential. Explain to them the issue and how they can help both you and your child in the transition. If the situation is proving too stressful for your kid, try to organise controlled visits to the classroom if possible.
Is it safe?
This is a concern for children and parents alike. Your child might not be so keen to be back in contact with a lot of people at once and, as a parent, you might be worried as well about what steps the school is taking to prevent potential Covid outbreaks.
The best way to ease your family’s fears, in this case, is to make contact with the school administration and have them explain thoroughly what measures they are planning to take to ensure everyone’s safety.
Explain these to your child, and make sure they also know the rules why it’s important to respect them. Make it very clear to them that they shouldn’t do anything they are not comfortable with and instruct them to be vocal should they feel distressed.
In the end, every child’s experience is unique. It’s important to keep the conversation open and always remember that feeling anxious is normal, especially when in a new environment. However, if your child exhibits sudden behavioural changes and/or persisting physical symptoms, you should consider bringing this up with your pediatrician.