For some it’s a source of excitement (even relief for some parents), but for many it is a time of anxiety and stress. Often holiday times include more freedom, relaxation and spending time with their families and friends for long periods, and now young people are expected to enter into a new environment, with new expectations and often new people. As we know in times of transitions, people respond in different ways, depending on their age, temperament and environment, but often anxiety is often a common reaction.
School is not only vital for the development and expansion of young people’s educational and social skills but also for their emotional development, and going through the experience of starting something new, and persevering despite the worries and anxiety allows the child to build their resilience and coping tools.
My top five tips for helping young people with ‘Back to School’ anxiety are:
Settle back into a routine, ideally a few days before school starts. This means earlier bed time, earlier waking up, ensuring all the books, uniforms, lunch items etc are ready, and their routine is understood. This helps reduce stress by creating security in predictability as well as avoiding tiredness, which always makes things worse.
Acknowledge that there are mixed emotions. It’s ok to be excited as well as nervous, eager but worried etc. It doesn’t mean your child doesn’t like school, or that you are ‘planting’ worries - transitions can be hard, and its normal to feel nervous at the start.
Find a time where they will feel comfortable and encourage your child to share their fears. Ask them what they think will happen when they go back to school, what are they most and least looking forward to? This allows the child a chance to raise any anxieties they may have as well as give you insight into their expectations. Explore what they might do if they start to feel uneasy, and encourage problem-solving. Younger children may need some suggestions and guidance, whereas older children can be encouraged to try think of solutions themselves. Some examples include, “ If that happens, what can you do…”, and “ Lets think of ways together to handle that…”
Remind the child of previous ‘ first’ experiences they have had already and look at what helped them at the time, and what they would have done differently. This builds on their sense of ability and self-belief.
Watch out what for what subtle (or maybe obvious) messages you might be sending. Anxiety can be ‘contagious’- if you believe there is something to fear or worry about with starting a new year, or if you are reminded of your own negative experiences related to school, your child will pick up on that. Rather remind yourself that this a positive opportunity for growth and development and your child will have a different expereince .
So as those bags get packed and sandwiches made, remember that some anxiety and worries are normal and your child will manage! Those feelings should ease as they get more familiar with the experience and it will be a time of building resilience. If these feelings persists beyond the first few weeks of school, you may need to speak with the teacher/school and get a professional opinion on how to further assist your child.