Jul 16, 2024

How to Manage Back to School Anxiety

It is common for little people to experience back-to-school anxiety. This is especially true for highly sensitive children or children with an anxiety disorder. Think about it – your little one has been enjoying the long summer break, and then they are thrown back into an environment filled with routine, learning, expectations and socialising. Children may be worried about a number of things regarding returning to school, including (but not limited to) worrying about the unknown (e.g. new classroom, new classmates, new teacher), being away from parents/care givers, their grades/performance at school or socialising with peers. This adjustment can be difficult, but there are some things parents can do to prepare children for the transition back to school. Below are some strategies that may help you, and your little one, prepare for the return to school.

  1. Setting up routine: At least 1 week before school starts back, begin getting your little one back into your school day routine. This includes waking up at the same time you would to get ready for school, preparing/eating breakfast at the same time, lunch breaks at the same time, and winding down for the evening, preparing for bed and sleeping at the same time you would if it was a school day. Routine helps your child’s mind and body build consistency and predictability, which helps to reduce anxiety and overwhelm in new situations.
  1. Prepare their favourite food: Ask your child for what their favourite school lunch is, and ask them to help prepare it for their first day of school. Having their favourite, lovingly made lunch gives them something to look forward too if they are dreading the first day back. You can also prepare their favourite breakfast to help set the day up for success.  
  1. Promote healthy living: One of the best ways to manage anxiety and stress is through getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, and releasing stress hormones (such as adrenaline and cortisol) through regular exercise. Promoting these behaviours regularly for your child is likely to help them to combat anxiety.  
  1. Create a ‘cheer squad’: Social support can be incredibly helpful for supporting little people's anxiety. Ensure the school and teacher is aware if your child is feeling anxious about returning to school, so they can check in with your child's wellbeing. Organise for one of your child's trusted friends to meet your child at school so they can walk into class together. Inform and educate other household members regarding your child’s back to school anxiety, so that everyone can support the child through words of encouragement.  
  1. Create an anxiety toolbox: Collaboratively create a toolbox that your child can take to school, which includes things they can use to regulate anxiety. This could be fidget toys, sensory tools, cards with breathing/regulation techniques on them, or even a handwritten note of reassurance from you. Ensure the school is aware of your child's tool box so they can access it anytime they are feeling anxious at school.  
  1. Regular check-ins: Be sure to regularly check in with your child regarding how they are feeling about school. During the holidays, you can start asking them about how they are feeling about returning to school. It may be helpful to mentally walk them through, step-by-step, what their first day may look like. You can also collaboratively walk through what they can do if they start to feel anxious at school. Be sure to check in with them regularly during the first few weeks about how they are finding the transition back to school. Acknowledge your child's feelings through listening and showing empathy, then redirect them to problem solving the situation.
  1. Check in with yourself: Parents act as an emotion thermometer for their children. That means if you are anxious about the return to school, this may be modelled to your child. Make sure you are engaging in support and looking after your own mental health.

It can take a few weeks for children to feel fully settled and adjusted back to school. If you noticed anxiety is persistent beyond a few weeks, or if you notice any major behaviour changes that are out of character for your child, your child may benefit from psychological support. If you or your child would benefit from support for back-to-school anxiety, please contact us to book in with one of our wonderful psychologists.  

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