When the kids have had a long holiday, it’s completely normal for them to experience feelings of anxiousness and negative thoughts. This is particularly true for kids and teens going back to school as well as little ones going to a kindergarten for the first time. It can be an extremely stressful time not only for kids but for parents too. It can disrupt the entire family.
Don’t be alarmed if the day before school your child throws a temper tantrum or clings to you, cries or complain of headaches and stomach pains, withdraw and even become sullen and irritable. This is the only way how they can express their emotions.
Don’t stress yourself out about it too much as it is common. Anxious kids and teens worry about many different school-related issues, such as teachers, friends, fitting in, and/or being away from their parents. Some common worries include:
- Who will my teacher be?
- What if my new teacher is mean?
- Will any of my friends be in my class?
- Will I fit in?
- Are my clothes OK?
- Will I look stupid?
- Who will I sit with at lunch?
- What if I miss the bus?
- What if I can’t understand the new schoolwork?
- What if something bad happens to mom or dad while I am at school?
One of the hardest parts when your child feels overwhelmed is making sure that they actually go to school, it’s critical so that they can alleviate some of their fears. If they don’t go to school it will increase their anxiety and worries about going back, and it will become more and more difficult to get them to go to school as times marches on.
If your child doesn’t go to school, not only will they miss out on work, but they’ll also not have the opportunity to build, develop and practice social skills, build important chances for success and mastery, being praised for the talents as well as creating new friends in their class.
So what to do?
Take a look at our basic points to help them ease their way back into school life, so to speak.
Focus on the Basics
If you’re tired and hungry are you at your best? We think not, and the same goes for children. If your child is anxious they often forget to eat or don’t feel hungry at all, as well as losing out on that much needed sleeps. Give them frequent snacks that are good for them. At the same time you’ll need to build in a regular routine, to get them back into the swing of things and life is more predictable for them and they know what to expect. These routines can involve morning and bedtime habits, as well as eating schedules.
Share the Feelings
It’s important that you provide a safe space between you and your child for them to express their fears. Talk to them about it and tell them that it’s normal. Before and after they go back to school, set up a regular time where you can discuss their fears and have a place to talk to you. Some kids feel most comfortable in a private space, and where they have your complete attention.
Problem Solving and Planning
This could surprise you, but try and avoid reassuring them. They often look for reassurance that bad things won’t happen in order to reduce their worry. Do not assure them with “Don’t worry!” or “Everything will be fine!” Instead, encourage your child to think of ways to solve his or her problem. For example, “If (the worst) happens, what could you do?” or “Let’s think of some ways you could handle that situation.” This gives you the opportunity to coach your child on how to cope with (and interpret) both real and imagined scary situations. You will also be giving your child the tools he or she needs to cope when an unexpected situation arises.
Here’s a way to engage with your child when problem-solving and planning
Role-play with your child
Sometimes role-playing a certain situation with your child can help them to make a plan, and feel more confident that they will be able to handle certain situations. For example, let your child play the part of the demanding teacher or bullying classmate. Then, model appropriate responses and coping techniques for your child, to help them calm down.
Focus on the positive
Distract your child away from worries and to try and look on the bright side. Ask your child, “What are three things that you are most excited about on your first day of school?” Most kids can think of something good, even if it’s just eating a special snack or going home at the end of the day. Chances are that the fun aspects are simply getting overlooked by repetitive worries.
Pay attention to your own behaviour
Remember that if you’re feeling the stress and strain and are feeling anxious your child will too, so try and remain calm and teach yourself the same techniques that you’re teaching your child to remain calm. You need to be supportive but firm at the same time. When saying goodbye in the morning, say it cheerfully – once! Do not hang around, get out of there. Rather talk to your kids instead of giving into their demands of not wanting to go to school, it should be a given.
Leading Up to the First Day of School
See how your child goes, however you might not need to take all these steps, adjust it to your child’s particular worries.
At least one week before
- Start your child on a school-day routine – waking up, eating, and going to bed at regular times. Tell them that everyone needs to adjust to the new routine, so they don’t feel alone.
- For older children who have some trouble getting up and out of bed, give them an alarm clock and let them practice using it.
- Ask your child to help plan school lunches for the first week.
- Create a list of school supplies together and plan a fun shopping trip.
- Teach and practice coping skills to use when feeling nervous, such as breathing to calm down.
A couple of days before school
- Go to school a couple of times – walking, driving, or taking the bus. For young children taking the school bus, describe and draw out the route they’ll be following, including where the bus goes and how long it takes to get to school.
- For new students, take a tour of the school. Show your child the classrooms, the cafeteria, and the bathrooms. If possible, meet your child’s teacher with your child present.
- Ask your child to help choose the outfits for the first week of school. Let your child wear his or her favourite outfit on the first day if there aren’t uniforms of course.
- Pack their schoolbag together the evening before, including a couple of treats.
- For younger children who are nervous about separating, suggest taking a special object to school that reminds them of home.
The first day has arrived
- Have your child go to school with a friend for the first couple of days.
- Tell the teacher that your child is having some separation anxiety – most teachers are experts in this area, and have years of experience!
- Most importantly, praise and reward your child for brave behaviour!