7 Ways to Ease Back-to-School Anxiety
If your child is naturally introverted or resistant to change, you probably won’t be surprised when back-to-school anxiety crops up a few weeks before school starts. Even your typically fearless, hyper-social child might suddenly start to have angry outbursts or periods of impulsive restlessness that also signal anxiety.
School anxiety is a common occurrence, regardless of a child’s grade level or personality. Use these seven tips to calm those anxious feelings before they become overwhelming.
1. Ask about feelings.
Don’t assume your child is completely fine unless he says so, and even then, ask some questions. Say things like, “When kids start school they sometimes feel excited, nervous, anxious, scared or overwhelmed. What are you feeling?” Being able to express and describe the experience can often take the edge off anxiety.
2. Paint a picture of what to expect.
Take advantage of school tours and meet-the-teacher days to help your child know what to expect from school. Talk to your child about how teachers and administrators are in charge and how school will follow a routine. Make sure your child knows who to talk to if she has a problem or concern. Assure her that there is a plan and steady leadership in place to help her relax.
3. Keep the teacher informed.
If your child struggles with anxiety beyond what might be considered first-day jitters, keep his teacher in the loop. Your child might respond more positively to input from adults other than his parents. If the situation does not improve, consider getting a school counselor involved.
4. Prepare for the first day.
Your child may take comfort from tasks that prepare her for school. Resist the urge to do everything for her or to shield her from the preparation process. Instead, gather lunch-making supplies, shop for school supplies and select school clothes together. Create a checklist and mark tasks as you complete them.
5. Focus on the positive.
Chances are your child is looking forward to some aspects of school, even if he is nervous, too. What about seeing his friends every day? How about taking the bus? Does he love libraries full of books? Do what you can to emphasize the positive for the first few weeks of school. For example, offer a special snack or a chance to watch a favorite show right after school.
6. Practice the new routine.
The week before school starts, get your child to bed earlier, wake her up at the time she’d have to get ready for school, feed her well and get her into the school-day mentality. Say things like, “If today were a school day, it would be time to go to the bus stop,” to help her envision what a school day will be like. Post the daily school schedule and go over it with her as the first day draws near.
7. Be extra calm yourself.
If you struggle with your own separation anxiety as you anticipate sending your child to school, discuss your feelings with understanding adults out of earshot of your child. Remind yourself that your child is resilient and will adjust to change just fine with support. Model a you-can-do-it attitude, even if it’s not the way you feel in the moment.
With some thoughtful preparation, you and your child can both avoid the back-to-school jitters.
Author and freelance journalist Christina Katz’s articles, books and video courses are popular all over North America, and occasionally around the world.