Published July 28, 2017
There’s no way it could be August already…it just doesn’t seem possible! And yet, here we are. For most Indy kids, summer break is over and school either just started or will begin in a few short days. Back-to-school time can be hectic and stressful for the whole family. But do you have a child who seems especially anxious about this transition?
Nervousness about the start of school is perfectly normal—for students of all ages—but it’s important to nip these feelings in the bud. Be patient with your little worrier, but be firm. It’s always tempting, as a parent, to want to relieve your child’s fears by allowing them to stay home, but not only does this teach bad habits and cause them to fall behind in their school work, it also reinforces their anxieties.
Instead, use this opportunity to communicate with your child. Get at the root of the anxiety and work together to overcome it. Not only will you help your child develop confidence, you may even strengthen your relationship in the process!
Recognize the signs.
Many children may not (or in the case of very young children, may not know how to) tell you up front about their back-to-school fears. Be on the lookout in the days leading up to the start of school for changes in behavior. Has your child become clingy? Started crying or throwing tantrums over fairly minor issues? Does she complain of headaches or stomachaches? Has he become sullen and withdrawn or irritable?
These could be signs your child is fretting about the start of school. Take the time to have a little chat and determine whether this is the case. And if it is, don’t judge your child or tell him his fears are silly or unfounded. It may seem like you’re reassuring your child when tell him there’s nothing to worry about, but it could, in fact, have the opposite effect.
Encourage your child to talk about her fears.
And be sure to really listen—it’s normal for a parent to want to jump in and try to solve all your kids’ problems, but ultimately, that doesn’t help. Be sure to tell your child it’s normal to have concerns and that you remember what it was like to have those same back-to-school anxieties. This assures your child she’s not “weird” or “wrong” to have these feelings. She’ll be more receptive to communicating and working through her anxieties with you if she doesn’t feel judged.
Then, set up a regular time to check in with her throughout the first couple weeks of school. Prompt her to point out fears she had that proved to be unfounded, and talk through any new fears that have cropped up. Make sure she knows you’re a safe place she can come to for help working through her worries.
Help your child problem-solve.
Rather than merely telling him everything is going to be fine, talk through the situation with him. Ask him to think about how he could handle each situation he’s worried about. You might even consider role-playing with your child—if he’s worried about having a mean teacher, for instance, have him play the role of the teacher so you can get a handle on what he’s really afraid of. Then you, playing the part of your kid, can help teach him appropriate behaviors and responses for each situation.
Focus on the positive.
What is your child excited about? Get her to open up about what she’s really looking forward to at school—even if it’s something small, like using her new set of crayons. Leading up to the start of school, take her shopping and let her pick out her own school supplies. Plan out the first week’s worth of lunches with her and be sure to throw in a treat each day, so she has something to look forward to.
While you’re at it, focus on the positive for yourself, too. Children are like little sponges, and soak up our own worries and anxieties. They take their cues from us, so try to radiate as much confidence and comfort as you can. It’s difficult to feel anxious around someone who’s so self-assured!
Establish set routines.
When kids know what to expect in certain aspects of their lives, they tend to be less anxious about the unknown. Make sure your child has a set bedtime and a set time to get up. Have him go through the same set of nighttime and morning tasks every day—first we get into our pjs, then we brush our teeth, etc. You may even want to start implementing this routine a couple weeks before school starts, so he’ll already be in the groove come schooltime.
It’s difficult to worry about the familiar. If your child will be attending a new school, take her for a visit before school starts and have the staff give you a tour. If you know which classroom she’ll be in, practice walking from the main entrance to her room, from her room to the cafeteria, etc., until she starts to feel comfortable with the layout of the school.
You may even want to contact her new teacher over the summer to see if he is available to meet up with you and your student in order to dispel any teacher-related worries. This is also a good way to let your child’s teacher know in advance about her anxiety. Ask for his advice—he’s probably been doing this for awhile, and might have some tips you wouldn’t have thought of, otherwise.
Reward your child’s brave behavior.
For the first day, especially, plan a fun activity or treat for after school. Knowing he has ice cream or an hour at the pool to look forward to gives him something positive to focus on. Throughout the first few weeks, encourage him to talk about the fun things that happened at school and reward him by listening attentively and showing excitement and encouragement about the things he’s excited about. And if he’s really made progress with his school-related anxieties, consider planning a fun family trip to the zoo or a state park to celebrate his accomplishments.
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