Helping your child overcome ‘back to school’ anxiety
So, the kids have had two weeks off school and thoroughly enjoyed it! Some may have taken advantage of not having to get up as early, while others may have jumped out of bed even earlier to begin their day! Bedtimes may have been extended slightly and of course all routine is out the window. Holidays are great for children, in my opinion, they need a break from school work. Most children are genuinely tired coming up to the end of term and quite possibly run down. However, after the break it’s great for kids to get back into a sense of routine and consistency. ‘Anxious’ children especially crave routine. But of course, most kids may not agree! The thoughts of going ‘back to school’ and timetables does not appeal. And for the little worriers, it can cause a lot of dread!
14 simple ways you can help your child overcome that ‘back to school’ dread and anxiety.
- Role model
Your child watches you; they soak in your behaviour and your attitude. So, if you have any reservations about them going back to school they will sense it. If you are worried about them, they not only sense it, they will think there is cause for concern. Therefore, it is a good idea to check in on your own feelings and anxieties. Bring a sense of clam to yourself if needed. Remember, going back to the routine is a good thing for your child!
If your child seems overly worried about going back to school, then talk to them. But the ‘listening’ is very important here, not just with your ears, but with your undivided attention, your full body language. We talk better when we feel we are actually being listened 100%. Listen to find out what’s going on for them, why are they worried? Is there something going on? Could there be issues at school with friends? With the work? Are they worried about leaving you? Leaving home? Are they already suffering withdrawals from technological devices? Is there something that is specifically provoking their anxiety? Listening will do two things, it will help us learn what is going on, and it will send a message to our children that we are there for them. So even if there is no ‘issue’, listening to the ‘small’ stuff will ensure our children will know we are there for the ‘big’ stuff.
Validation of how we feel is powerful. To feel a certain way is our right, no matter how silly or pointless it may seem to anyone else. So, by simply saying, you feel worried and that’s ok, will bring down the level of anxiety a notch. ‘Don’t worry about that …’ is not going to stop the subconscious mind from worrying about it. In fact, our subconscious will only hear ‘worry about it’! Not having our feelings validated can bring about other feelings of anger, frustration, loneliness, the feeling of being misunderstood or silly. So those two little words …. ‘it’s okay’ are so powerful. Validating someone’s feelings does not mean justifying the reasons for the feeling in the first place. It just means it is okay to feel a certain way, then when the feeling is accepted, rational thinking can enter the arena to apply logic to the situation. While we can validate feelings, it is also important to direct expression of those feeling to healthy behaviour. So, while saying ‘I know you are angry and it is okay to feel angry, it is not okay to xyz …’
We may not understand why the person feels anxious, but we understand what it is like to be anxious. Of course, we do, because anxiety is normal and we all at times feel it. By understanding the emotion, the child is going through you are telling them they are not alone and that what they are feeling is by no means a rare and unique thing!
Just as empathy can take away that ‘I’m weird to feel this way’, so can explaining anxiety. When children understand the physiological changes occurring in their body, the fear around it begins to diminish. Then you can help them manage the body sensations by introducing ways to help the body calm itself. Controlled belly breathing in and out through the nose is a great way to calm the anxiety response in the body.
- The all-important ‘you are capable’ message!
One key message kids need in life is that they are capable! If there are issues arising from your ‘listening’ exercise, help the child to work it out for themselves. For younger children, suggest solutions in a way they feel they have come up with them. Help them to plan for the issue or to problem solve it. The more they learn these life skills the more confident and less anxious they will become.
- Develop smart thinking by normalising jitters.
Have a talk around how normal and natural it is for everyone to have a few jitters about going ‘back to school’ after some time off. Even for the teachers. Think about it, all that free time to fill in as you please, no routine, no school work, no alarm clocks. Then to give that up! There may be things about school that the child doesn’t like, maybe the time they spend learning one particular subject. However, isn’t that quite normal to go through a day and have things to do we don’t particularly like? I can’t say I wake up thinking ‘yes, can’t wait to clean the bathrooms today’. But just like life, days can be filled with good and ‘meh’ (as my daughter would say). In a way it’s about enjoying the things we like and for the things we don’t … sucking it up and just getting on with it! Because that in itself is a great lesson for life! If we don’t learn to get on with the ‘lows’ then life is going to feel very hard.
- Focus on the positives.
While it is wonderful to normalise the jitters and teach an important lesson on life’s up’s and down’s, I do recommend focusing on the positives as much as possible. What you focus on is what you get! If you only see the negative then you miss out on all the positives. You may have noticed I keep putting those three little words – back to school – into quotation marks. That’s because when we say back to school, it always seems to carry negative connotations. Help the child see the all positives about school. Talk about what is exciting about it. List out all the things they enjoy about it. Their teacher, their friends, break time, what things they like to learn about. Are they interested in history, science, art? Talk to them about what they are learning and show an interest in it. Change the focus from school being a negative thing to being a great place to be. Because, it actually is a pretty cool place to be compared to school way back in the ‘olden days’ (as my other daughter calls it!) when I went.
- Give choices
Choices are very important because you are developing that idea of capability in the child plus you are giving them some control over their life. Anxiety can feel like a loss of control so giving choices can help the child feel like they are gaining some of that control back. Give choices that you can accommodate and agree to. Can be as simple as ‘what they would like to have for lunch?’ Even a toddler can choose which socks they would like to wear!
- Be prepared
Being prepared lessons anxiety. Less to worry about! Having the uniform laid out ready to wear the night before, lunches made and the school bag ready will all go a long way to decreasing anxiety for both you and your child.
- Nice breakfast
To ‘celebrate’ going back to school and give the child something to look forward on the first morning, plan a nice breakfast! Something that is healthy and nutritious, yet they will look forward to!
- Sleep well
Your child may find it especially difficult to go to sleep the night before they go back to school. You can plan for this by doing some physical activities and if possible out in the fresh air during the day. Before bed, help them to write down all their worries and put them into an envelope for the night. This act of taking the worries out of the head and putting them away for a bit can really work. List down three things they are excited about for the following day. Follow this by a lovely little relaxing back massage with some lavender oil. Who doesn’t love that!
In the morning, play some upbeat music loud for all to hear. Music has a way of bringing about good feeling and it’s harder to feel anxious and good at the same time!
- Get up early for a sneaky peaceful cuppa!
Set the alarm ten minutes early and sneak into the kitchen for a lovely peaceful cuppa by yourself, if it is possible. This few minutes of peace and calm will charge the batteries and get the morning off to a good start. Combine this with good music and being prepared for a morning routine that you can all enjoy!