How to Help Children with Back-to-School Anxiety

How to Help Children with Back-to-School Anxiety

How to Help Children with Back-to-School Anxiety

Even kids that are usually confident can feel some back-to-school anxiety at the start of the new year, and many of us adults can still remember those uneasy feelings. On top of the normal nerves, kids have had to cope with unpredictable school stuff for quite a long time now, from home-schooling to pupil bubbles to learning new systems.

Most of the concerns will ease off naturally as they settle back in, but there will be a lot of children feeling extra anxious as the summer holidays end. So how can we be supportive and reassuring without stirring up their stress? Here are some ideas for a smoother start to the Autumn term.

Listen to their worries

It can be easy to dismiss nerves with “don’t worry, you’ll be fine when you get there” (especially if you know they probably will be fine when they get there!) But taking time to listen and acknowledge feelings is reassuring, and lets them know that nothing is too small or too silly to share with you. Not all problems need solutions – just saying “I know that’s hard” can help your child feel heard and understood. 

Get specific and problem solve

OK, so we just said that not all problems need fixing, but if your child does want help with handling something specific, make a strategy together. Identify the problem – we may think they’re vaguely anxious about everything, or assume they’re worried about best friends when they’re actually stressed about maths. Finding out what the specific concerns are means you can think of practical steps to help, rather than general reassurances.

Keep an eye on your own anxiety

The start of the year can be an emotional time for parents too, wanting your child to be happy, settled and successful at school. AND you have to get everyone back into routine, co-ordinating drop offs, after-school activities, and homework. Don’t forget to check in on your own emotional temperature, and build in some self-care strategies to keep yourself stable. 

Make life more predictable

Our brains love knowing what to expect, whatever age we are. For children, sameness can help them feel safe. Making life a bit more predictable (even if it’s only for September) can balance out the overwhelm of all the new stuff happening at school. This could mean packing bags the night before, eating the same thing for breakfast every day, or following the same simple routine after school. You can gradually ease up and add more variety once everybody’s feeling settled.

Create space to share about the day

Sharing about your day could happen in the car ride home, around the dinner table, or getting into your PJs… whatever works for your family. It’s just a set-aside time where everyone can have a turn to talk, so there’s regular opportunity for your child to express any worries. You can celebrate the good stuff as well as the not-so-good, and it normalises the fact that all of us struggle and find some things hard.

Be thoughtful with questions: asking ‘Are you worrying about school again?’ or ‘Have you made friends yet?’ could make kids even more anxious or stressed while they figure those things out. Try open, neutral questions like ‘What’s one thing you enjoyed today?’ 

Dr Rangan Chatterjee uses these three questions with his family: ‘What have you done today to make somebody else happy? What has somebody else done to make you happy? What have you learned today?’

For even more ideas, check out our ‘Happy Confident Me’ cards for loads of different conversation starters.

Expect ups and downs

If the first few days go really well, it might seem like the rest of the term will be easy sailing. Remember that getting used to new things isn’t linear: as kids learn new skills and have new experiences, they’ll probably have ups and downs too. Your child may have a great couple of weeks, and then starts to feel the strain, or there may be a mixture of good days and setbacks from the start. Keep listening, validating, and problem solving as needed. There’s not necessarily a finish line!

Talk to teachers

Even if it seems like ‘just a small problem’, it’s worth talking to school staff if you have concerns about your child’s anxiety. They may be able to add ideas and tweaks to help ease the transition, and stop small problems turning into bigger ones. Even if it doesn’t require any action right now, it’s helpful that key people are aware of what your child might be struggling with.

We’re cheering you on for an awesome back-to-school landing – good luck!

Thanks for reading! Please share this post, you never know who might need it. 

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