Coping with Back to School Worries

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We know that the summer holiday has only just begun and we hope everyone is able to have fun and enjoy some much needed rest and relaxation.  With that said, we are always looking forward to seeing our students back in September! Since summer is a time when regular routines are changed or relaxed for many families, we thought it would be a good time to provide some important information that might be helpful in August.  

With warmer weather and longer days, we tend to stay up later and spend more time outside than we might at other times of the year.  This can make going back to school tricky for some children. According to Anxiety Canada “anxious feelings are normal and expected in children and teens returning to school, changing schools, or for first-timers starting kindergarten”.  The Child Mind Institute states that “even kids who are usually pretty easy-going get butterflies, and kids prone to anxiety get clingier and more nervous than usual”. Transitioning to school can create stress for the entire family.

It’s normal for your child to cling, cry, have temper tantrums, complain of headaches or stomach pains, withdraw, and become sullen or irritable prior to the first day of school according to Anxiety Canada.  Worries are normal! Some contributing questions that may be leading to their anxiety include:

  • Who will be my new teacher?
  • Will any of my friends be in my class?
  • Will I fit in?
  • Are my clothes OK?
  • What if I can’t understand the new schoolwork?

Anxiety Canada states that “although it is normal for your child to have worries, it is crucial to have your child attend school. Skipping school will only increase your child’s fears because s/he never gets a chance to find out if his/her worries are valid. Furthermore, when children and teens stay home because of anxiety, they miss:

  • Valuable opportunities to develop and practice social skills
  • Important chances for success and mastery
  • Being acknowledged and praised for talents
  • Fostering close friendships with classmates
  • Learning basic skills like reading, writing, and mathematics”

According to the Child Mind Institute these worries about the new school year and anxious behaviours will fade for most students.  There are, however, things you can do to help prepare yourself and your child for the beginning of the school year.  

The following are 5 Steps to deal with Back to School Worries from Anxiety Canada:

STEP 1   TAKE CARE OF THE BASICS:

Ensure your child is getting enough sleep, eating regular meals and healthy snacks and has daily exercise. When your child’s mind and body are nourished, tackling school worries is easier. Plus, your child will be more likely to listen to you, and cope better when you insist on school attendance, if s/he has had a good nights sleep and a decent breakfast.

STEP 2   PROVIDE EMPATHY: 

Listen to your child’s concerns. What is s/he worried about? Why does s/he expect that to happen? Let your child share his/her fears and talk about what’s on his/her mind. There may be good opportunities to simply listen to your child when you are in the car, standing in line at the store, at bath-time or during dinner. For some kids and teens this “casual” method of talking feels less intense and makes it easier for them to express themselves. For others, a private time with undivided attention feels better.

STEP 3   PROBLEM SOLVE:

Once you know what’s bothering your child, you can start to develop a coping plan. Anxious youth are often poor problem solvers and doubt their ability to cope. Addressing your child’s fear head on, by creating an active plan with concrete solutions, will significantly reduce the worry. 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.

STEP 4   FOCUS ON THE POSITIVE ASPECTS:  

Once you have an understanding of what your child is afraid of, and a coping plan to address these fears, you can encourage your child to re-direct attention away from the worries towards the positives. 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 the fun aspects are simply getting overlooked by repetitive worries.   

STEP 5   PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR OWN BEHAVIOR: 

For parents of younger children or children starting at a new school, it can be anxiety-provoking for parents to hand over care and responsibility of their child to teachers. Children take cues from their parents, so the more confidence and calm you can model, the more your child will believe s/he can handle this new hurdle. Be supportive yet firm. When saying goodbye in the morning, say it cheerfully – once! Ensure you don’t reward your child’s protests, crying, or tantrums by allowing him/her to stay home. Instead, in a calm tone, say: “I can see that going to school is making you scared, but you still have to go. Tell me what you are worried about, so we can talk about it.”   

For a School Preparation Timeline 2 weeks before school starts, please access the following link: https://anxietycanada.com/articles/coping-with-back-to-school-anxiety/ 

Helpful Videos:

How to help your Child with Back to School Anxiety: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3ZnCV2MhCQ 

Starting Kindergarten Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_5eiYIo1XM 

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