back to school anxiety

How to Help Your Kids with Back to School Anxiety

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Will my friends be in my class? What if my teacher is mean? I can’t remember anything I learned last year! What if math is too hard for me? Kids can worry about many different back to school-related issues. Even though we can’t know the exact thoughts going on in our kiddo’s head, you may have noticed they are acting strange whenever school is mentioned. We know that nervous and apprehensive feelings about the start of school are completely normal, but that doesn’t make us want to help our kids any less.

We spoke with Dr. Melanie Badali, registered psychologist and board member of AnxietyBC, to get her suggestions on what we as parents can do before school starts to prepare our kids and help them feel less anxious.

back to school anxiety

Dr. Badali’s recommends planning ahead to help ease the transition from summer vacation back to school.

1 – 2 weeks before school:

  • Establish the school year routine — regular morning, school, homework and bedtime routines.
  • Ask your child to help plan school lunches for the first week.
  • Create a list of school supplies together and go on a shopping trip. Make it fun!
  • Go to the schoolyard and play a few times before the first day of school. Go alone or invite a schoolmate, whatever would be more fun for your child.
  • Contact the school and let them know if your child needs extra support to make a successful transition.

2-3 days before school:

  • Go to the school several times. Walk around, play in the playground. Any opportunity for exposure, repetition, and mastery is good.
  • Ask your child to help choose what she or he wants to wear on the first few days.
  • Together with your child, pack up the schoolbag the night before.

1 day before school

  • Get as much ready the night before as possible to minimize rushing and stress in the morning. Pack lunch, lay out clothes, etc.
  • Plan breakfast — something tasty and easy.
  • Decide who will take your child to school if this is an option. Having your child go to school with a friend for the first couple of days may feel less scary. Plan to drive your child for the first week until they feel confident to take the bus, if that’s how they will be getting to school.
  • Get everyone to bed on time.

The first day of school:

  • Get up early so you do not have to rush.
  • If your child has a history of separation anxiety in other settings, tell the teacher or another professional at the school.
  • Praise and reward your child for brave behavior. They can be crying when they walk through the door and still be brave. Focus on successes — they walked through the door.

After you’ve made it through the hectic start of school and settle into a routine, you may notice your kiddo has anxious feelings that pop up throughout the school year. Dr. Badali has a few more suggestions to help you and them through it.

The most important thing she stresses is that it is crucial to have your child attend school. In the short term, allowing kids to skip school may decrease their distress, but this decrease in anxiety is only temporarily. Long term, avoidance of people, things, and situations that make children anxious will maintain the anxiety. Skipping school will only increase your child’s fears because they never get a chance to find out if their worries are valid.

back to school anxiety

Here are Dr. Badali’s other tips for helping your kids with school-related anxiety:

  • Establish healthy, basic routines for sleeping, eating, doing homework and exercising. Structure is important for kids.
  • Keep the lines of communication open for your child to share their concerns.
  • Provide empathy and help them learn to problem solve and manage their worries.
  • Reinforce brave behaviour. Emphasize that they do not have to go to school worry or anxiety free but it is their responsibility to go to school. Being brave is not about being free of anxiety; it is about being afraid and doing the healthy behaviour (in this case going to school) despite that anxiety.

In some cases, you will need to seek extra support. This may come from a school counsellor, psychologist, teacher, or other health or education professional. Do not hesitate to ask for support.

Here are a number of resources from AnxietyBC that you may find helpful if you find your kiddo getting anxious about school:

Coping with Back to School Anxiety  

Helping Your Child Cope with Back-to-School Anxiety

My Anxiety Plan for Separation Anxiety

Home Management Strategies for Separation Anxiety

School Refusal

 

By: Michelle Hughes

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