Back to School Worries? That’s OK!

Anxious feelings are normal and expected in children as we approach the start of the school year. The transition can be stressful and disruptive for the entire family. In the days leading up to school, your child may cling, cry, have temper tantrums, complain of headaches or stomach pains, withdraw, plead or bargain, and become irritable or angry. It can be a roller coaster! Here are some tips for dealing with Back-to-School worries:
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. Before school, try to gradually return your child to a school-day sleep and wake routine. You may also need to ask everyone in the family to adjust to the new schedule, so your child isn’t the only one making changes.
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 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.”

Activity Ideas:

  • Ask your child to help plan school snacks for the first week. You can go to the store together to shop for these items or get them to help pick out their special indoor school shoes or backpack.
  • Visit the school playground and play a few times before the first day of school.
  • Ask your child to help choose what s/he wants to wear on the first few days.
  • If your child has a history of separation anxiety in other settings, tell your teacher. Most teachers are experts in this area and have years of experience! At Dalhousie Community Kindergarten, our teacher Mrs. Scherpenisse will be visiting you and your child in your home prior to the first days of school. This will be an excellent time to talk about any concerns you may have.

Most importantly, continue to praise and reward your child for brave behavior. Celebrate and praise their successes!

– Adapted from “Coping with Back to School Anxiety”