As the start of the school year gets closer, some children are excited and eager to see friends again and ready to get back into the routine of school. Others may experience feelings of back-to-school anxiety — and that includes the typically anxious child as well as those who are usually laid back.
Sometimes it’s a case of separation anxiety, as some children don’t want to leave their family after a summer together. Other times, it could be because the child is starting a new school or transitioning from preschool to kindergarten, etc. Still other times, the child may feel anxious because a good friend moved.
Regardless of the reasons, there are ways to reduce your child’s feelings of back-to-school anxiety. First, you can check in with your own feelings. Are you experiencing anxiety at the thought of the upcoming school year with its stricter routines and busier schedules? If so, you may be unintentionally contributing to your anxious child’s stress and may need to manage your own anxiety to help your child.
Also, if your child expresses feelings of stress about the upcoming school year, listen carefully and acknowledge those feelings. Sometimes simply listening without dismissing those fears can help your anxious child feel more calm.
A week or so before the school year begins, it makes sense to get back into school routines by laying out clothes for the next day and adjusting bedtimes. You can also plan a playdate with one or more friends from school to help with the transition, and practice going to school together. Your child may want to play on the school playground, for example.
If you anticipate there may be separation anxiety on the first day, you can plan a fun after-school activity to enjoy.
PsychologyToday.com offers more recommendations, including:
- Creating expectations that are reasonable. If your child feels that he or she can’t meet school-related expectations, he or she may actually put in less effort because it doesn’t seem possible to achieve what’s expected. Instead, let your child know it’s normal to need time to learn new information and that, with effort, it will get easier.
- Avoid comparing your child to others. Sometimes children feel anxious about the upcoming school year because they feel as though other students are smarter or more popular, and it doesn’t help when an adult makes comparisons, even well-intentioned ones. Instead, it can help to show your child how to compare his or her performance now versus a year ago. What new things have been accomplished?
Finally, morning routines matter. It can help to plan extra time in the mornings, especially during the first few days of the new school year. This makes the morning less stressful for you, which allows you to help your child manage any anxiety that they are feeling. It also gives you extra time in case your child stalls or throws a tantrum out of stress.
When possible, let your child make choices, which can give him or her a sense of control over the situation. For example, give your child a couple of choices about what to wear or what to eat for breakfast. It can also help when all of your child’s supplies are organized and already in his or her backpack.
Typically, the stress over a new school year fades as your child gets back into a regular routine. If you continue to have concerns, consider talking to his or her teacher.