How to deal with anxiety when returning to school
Try these simple hacks to keep anxiety over school to a minimum
Transitions can be tricky for kids, particularly if they're starting school for the first time or returning after an extended period away. The pandemic pushed us all into a new normal, and just when kids were getting the hang of it, the goalposts have changed again. Preparation is key when it comes to banishing the pesky butterflies that can take hold of stressed kids' tummies when change is afoot. Knowing where to begin with allaying their fears can be overwhelming, but there's no need to fret, we've got you covered!
Here's our back‑to‑school anxiety busting roadmap to ease your child comfortably back into their new reality:
Knowledge is power
We've all felt that tension when something new is on the horizon and we've been out of the loop for a while. These nervous feels can be particularly daunting for kids heading back to school after a prolonged absence. Talking honestly and calmly together, and acknowledging kids' worries goes a long way to lessening the stress of unfamiliar situations.
Dr Jess Hao, a psychologist at Headspace, said the unknown nature of the lockdown, and the unknown that school re‑entry brings, has been tough for kids.
“At Headspace, my colleagues and I have observed a general trend of increased anxiety and stress,' she said. ‘It's common for kids, as there's a lot of adjusting to do. It's kind of a grief and loss process.”
It can be difficult for some younger children to express what's affecting them, so pay close attention to their behaviour for hints. Rather than asking them what's wrong outright, go for a walk or play a game and the conversation may flow on its own.
“I encourage parents to take a step‑by‑step approach, by asking open‑ended questions”, said Dr Hao. “Be ready and open to talk and validate them. If they're not ready to talk, let them know you'll be there when they can talk.”
Practical small steps are the best approach to dealing with overwhelming expectations. Discuss when school will be starting a week ahead and use this time to familiarise them with how the school day will play out. Go through a dry run of the morning routine, practice packing and opening their lunchbox if they're younger, they can even wear their uniform around the house if they want to! Remind them of all the aspects of school they used to love, or what they have to look forward to if they're starting school for the first time.
Create routines to foster calm
You can't beat a calm, predictable bedtime routine to help kids relax into a good night's sleep, so they're rested and raring to go in the morning. Headaches and tummy aches are common for kids who are worried about the many facets they must deal with at school. A lovely bath, reading a book cuddled up together and maybe even some simple meditation is the way to go.
Also, start implementing a more structured daily routine in the lead up to returning to school to help make the transition easier. Make it fun by playing a make‑believe game where they're getting ready for school, create a ‘secret' handshake to use at the school gate, read a book together on the topic and perhaps they could complete a couple of Reading Eggs' printable reading worksheets.
Boost your child's self‑esteem by filling in any educational gaps that may be causing them anxiety. Get them feeling like Eggsperts with as little as 15 minutes of Maths and English practice a day. A little daily refresher will make kids feel self‑assured and ready to skip into the classroom.
Multiply kids' motivation
A little positive reinforcement never goes astray. If your child is struggling during the first days and weeks back acknowledging and celebrating their achievements with great enthusiasm can help. If they're feeling overwhelmed with schoolwork, it's good to remind them that they can brush up on Reading and Maths skills with our fun learning games.
Some kids may feel a little queasy about suddenly swapping the hours they've gotten used to spending with their parents, with teachers. The one‑on‑one attention they may have enjoyed at home isn't realistic in a classroom full of their peers. Learning by playing fun, educational online games and completing activities on their own is a great way of helping kids realise just how capable they are. This positive screen time achieving goals sends a powerful message to kids, especially as they're ascending activity levels all by themselves.
Social emotional help
Get the conversation started early if kids are showing signs of increased anxiety. Separation anxiety after long periods at home with family is completely normal and strategies can help nix these back‑to‑school nerves. Talk positively about the school week ahead of time. We know it's hard for us as parents but try to keep the goodbyes positive and to a minimum. Kids do bounce back quickly, particularly with kind, trained teachers who are ready to distract them towards something new and fun. Once you're out of the school gates, feel free to let any tears flow. We've all been there!
Dr Hao's strategies for calming anxious kids:
- Practice deep breathing techniques when children feel overwhelmed
- Use sensory toys to help kids re‑orient themselves and feel more grounded
- Use the 5 senses technique. Ask kids to think about what they can see, touch, smell and focus on that, until they feel better
- Remind them to have some water.
Beating the playground blues
Some kids find the playground more challenging than the classroom. If this is the case for your child there are ways to ease them back in, to what can be a social minefield. Play dates ahead of time are a great way of building the all‑important friendships children need to support each other and have fun. Another option is to socialise by playing a game with other kids online. We understand parents' concern about kids playing online and you can feel confident they will always remain anonymous on while on Reading Eggs.
Practice makes perfect
A great way to nudge kids back into the school gates is to use their interests to set their school career back on the right track. Once they're back at school help allay their anxiety in the classroom by reiterating what they're good at and building on those skills. Gently incorporate maths and English tasks they find tricky by brushing up with fun games that are less daunting.
Parents feel back‑to‑school anxiety too
As parents we tend to stress about our children's concerns and focus on what we can do for them. Remember to be kind to yourself too. Far from being selfish, it's a phenomenal way to model self‑care to your anxious littlies. While you're reminding them to take deep breaths, join in. Perhaps try doing some calming yoga poses together to shake out some of the tension.
Don't forget, the Reading Eggs blog is packed with ideas to give parents a helping hand too.
Keep lines of communication open
It's not just the lead up to returning to school that can be fraught. Anxiety can persist when kids are back at school for days, weeks or months. Having a casual chat while eating an afternoon snack is a great way to alleviate any ongoing school life anxiety. No interrogations no matter how keen we as parents are to know all the ins and outs of their school life. It will also give an indication of what is worth tackling at home or raising with their teacher.
Back to school anxiety is real, especially for kids whose classroom and playground routines are out of whack – not to mention the tiny tots who are relatively new to the structured, multi‑faceted school world. We hope our strategies and resources have given you a way out of the worries, and most importantly inner peace for your kids. Here's to a stress‑free back to school term!
What works best for helping your child with return to school anxiety?