How you can help your child manage back-to-school anxiety
Anglicare Southern Queensland offers practical and helpful tips to assist families manage the back-to-school transition
It’s that time of the year again!
Those summer days of sleeping in, catching up with friends and family and going away on family holiday are about to make way for precision-timed school drop-offs and pick-ups, packed lunches and homework.
With students having been at home for the past six weeks during the Christmas and New Year break, it’s more than enough time to adjust but for the first-timers, there are also new teachers, new classmates, new routines and new lessons to add in the mix.
Understandably, all this change means starting or returning to school can be an emotionally turbulent time for some children. It’s perfectly normal for parents, too, to have strong feelings about their ‘baby’ growing up and even their own experiences at school.
Children are often highly attuned to parents’ feelings so be aware that your child may sense any distress you are feeling, which may in turn affect the way they look at school.
Here are some tips for helping your child deal with any back to school anxiety.
- Prepare your child for the new school routine by visiting the school and practising what going to school will look like. This will help them become familiar with the new surroundings and the journey.
- Practise getting dressed for school and packing lunch boxes with your child to support their sense of independence. This is also a great way of getting into a healthy routine for when school commences.
- It can be helpful to support your child’s sense of maturity by giving them new responsibilities, such as contributing to their food choices for their lunchbox or choosing their school haircut.
- Try to arrange play dates with other children who will be attending the same school in advance. This will help them feel a sense of comfort and security on their first day.
- Encourage your child’s social and learning skills to give them the best start to their education. For example, practise the back-and-forth of conversation and chat about social rules using questions like: “We have to wait to have our chance to speak, don’t we?” Listening and following instructions is a big part of adapting to school life. Practise these skills by asking questions like: “Now that I’ve shown you how to mix the cordial, let’s see if you can do it by yourself!”
- If you think the first week will be challenging from a time-management perspective, cook some meals you can freeze to free up more time with your child after school.
The first day of school
- To minimise the expected ‘first day stress’ for both you and your children, allow extra time to get ready in the morning – and don’t forget the all important ‘first day of school’ photo.
- On the way to school, try talking positively about what your child will do while they are away from you (e.g. you will have story time, you are going to have fun meeting new children). This will help promote positive images of school experiences.
- Once at school, develop a positive goodbye routine with your child (e.g. sharing a special high five, hug or loving gesture). Avoiding lengthy goodbyes is key. When saying goodbye always reassure your child you (or someone else they know) will be there to collect them at the end of the day. This will help manage any separation distress, build trust and create a sense of security for them.
Look for cues from your child’s teacher. They will already be establishing a routine to support your child to feel comfortable and their role includes helping children separate from their parents.
- Chat with your child about who they might like to call (grandparent/uncle/friend) after school to let them know all about it. Calling a grandparent who hasn’t been to school for years or a family with a toddler who has yet to start can make your child the “expert” on how it works which can generate a great sense of self-esteem.
At the end of the day
- When you collect your child, be ready to listen to their experiences of their first day. Notice things that went well, and if necessary, support them around difficulties. Remember that transitioning into school does not happen in one day.
- Ask them some questions about what they did. Share them stories about your day and let them know you were thinking about them.
- The first day is a huge milestone to achieve so consider rewarding your child with a special activity or family dinner over the weekend.
- If it’s helpful arrive early and meet some of the other parents for a chat before the bell rings.
It’s important to remember that every child and family is different – you will have good days and may have some more challenging days. There is no set time for how long it will take your child to settle into a new school but, generally, most feelings around starting school tend to be short-lived.
First published on the Anglicare Southern Queensland website on 22 January 2021.Jump to next article