31 Aug

Back-to-school anxiety is common, and a degree of nerves is normal. Here are some ideas for helping your child (and you!) manage the transition.
- Listen to and validate your child’s feelings – no matter how ‘normal’ this form of anxiety is, these feelings can be painful, frightening and difficult for a child to manage by themselves. 

- Try to see your child’s struggles as separate from any you may have experienced at school; viewing our children’s experiences through our own ‘lens’ is not always helpful, as it can lead us to form assumptions that may be incorrect e.g., if you were bullied at school you may assume your child’s anxieties relate to peers, when in fact they could stem from other factors such as learning difficulties. 

- Explore whether your child’s anxieties about returning to school are related to natural apprehensions linked to change, including the transition back to a school routine, a new class/teacher and so on, or if there are more specific causes, such as bullying or coping with learning. This will help inform the type of support your child needs and whether supports within school need to be put in place. Apprehensions linked to change can be helped by involving your child in preparations before the first day of school, e.g. packing school bag, getting uniforms ready, meeting up with friends, exploring routes to school, thus avoiding an anxiety-provoking last minute rush. 

- Getting your child into a regular routine of sleeping, waking and eating before the start of school can help them cope with the transition.- Remind your child that a degree of anxiety is normal and will be shared by many of their friends and even teachers. 

- Help your child understand that anxiety can often go hand-in-hand with excitement, and that some of their nervous feelings could be related to excitement about things like re-connecting with friends and activities they enjoy. 

- Ask your child what would be helpful – parents often go into ‘fix’ mode when presented with a child’s anxiety, assuming they know best. Asking a child for their opinion can empower them by giving them a sense of control over the situation. 

- Convey a sense of confidence in your child’s ability to manage the things that are within their control – and that it is an adult’s job to support them with the things that are not. Children can sometimes believe it is their responsibility to solve problems which are often beyond their scope. 

- It can be helpful to remind children of times in the past when they have overcome challenges. 

- Help your child understand that while school is an important part of their life, it is not the only important thing – remind them there are things they find easier and more enjoyable. Find suitable role models e.g., footballers, singers and so on, who have had challenging experiences at school. This could help alleviate any feelings of shame/guilt/inferiority, and demonstrate that success is not always linked to positive school experiences.

- Children are prone to black and white thinking – things are either all good, or all bad. Help your child identify aspects of school they find more positive – fostering a more nuanced perception of school will help your child manage their anxiety.

 - Help your child accept their feelings while fostering an understanding of the temporary nature of emotions. It can be helpful if your child understands that anxiety is something we all experience, and that it is an unpleasant but useful emotion which helps keep us safe. 

- Help your child understand that back to school anxiety is often related to upcoming change, and that once they settle back into school, this will dissipate. 

- Teach your child about anxiety – there are lots of useful, child appropriate resources such as books and on-line information including videos, which help children understand the body’s response to perceived threat. This can be a stepping-stone to learning self soothing techniques such as square breathing which help ‘turn off’ the threat response in the brain. A great way of teaching children about ‘belly breathing’ is blowing bubbles – children of all ages enjoy this activity and they learn to take a deep breath in, and a slow breath out through the mouth. When children understand that anxiety is a normal, biological reaction which is often triggered by mistaken perceptions of threat, and have some ‘tools’ to cope, they become more empowered. You are teaching them skills that will help throughout life. 

- Remind your child of times in the past they have overcome challenges – and, if you are comfortable to, provide a few examples of your own experiences of anxiety. Your child will feel less alone and more understood, and this could open up opportunities for you to pass on some healthy coping tips of your own.

- While avoidance can seem the natural solution, help your child understand that avoiding school can make the anxiety much worse in the long term. 

- Brainstorm ideas with your child – foster a sense of being a team – they don’t have to figure things out and manage on their own.

- Explore with your child the nature of their anxieties. This can help you to formulate an ‘action plan’ based on what is and is not within your control. 

- Children may have concerns about issues such as bullying or their learning, and these can be alleviated through working with schools to put in appropriate supports. Remember schools have a duty of care to their pupils, and connecting with pastoral staff to explore supports can be very important. Educational psychologists can also be helpful in determining whether there may be underlying issues such as neurodivergence. 

- Watch your own stress-levels as a parent and find ways to support yourself with the start of term transition. Remember it is easy for us to pass our anxiety on to our children, so ensuring you take time to check-in with yourself, acknowledging any feelings of distress, and having effective support and coping strategies in place is crucial in supporting your child. 

- If your child’s anxieties persist beyond a normal ‘settling in’ period at school, and interfere with their ability to socialise or learn, then it could be helpful to contact a professional trained in supporting children with anxiety. Therapeutic interventions such as play therapy can be effective in helping children process, understand and cope with anxiety.

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