My child is getting anxious about going back to school. How can I support them?
Supporting a child who is feeling anxious about going back to school requires a combination of understanding, communication, and patience. As a parent/caregiver this can be challenging. Here are some strategies that may help support you:
Open Communication: Keeping the lines of communication open is a great first start as this is how you will learn what is going on in the childs thoughts and emotions. Encourage your child to express their feelings and concerns. Ask open-ended questions and actively listen to what they have to say. Let them know that their feelings are valid and that you are there to support them.
Acknowledge Their Feelings: Validate your child's emotions and let them know that it's okay to feel anxious. Don't brush their emotional concerns aside or tell them not to be worrying. Rather, encourage them to open up about how they are feeling and let them know that you understand. Reassure them that many kids feel the same way before going back to school after a break.
Provide Information: Sometimes, anxiety can be alleviated by knowing what to expect. Talk to your child about their school schedule, their teachers, and any changes that might have occurred since they were last in school.
Visit the School: If it's possible, visit the school with your child before the first day. Many schools are open to staff for a few days before children return. If your child is overly anxious about returning to school perhaps the school principal may allow you to pay a short visit to the school to familiarise your child with the setting. Familiarity can help ease anxiety.
Create a Routine: Routine is usually disrupted during school holiday breaks. Re-establishing the childs routine in advance of their return to school can help settle them. That includes bedtime, screen time, sleep, meals, and time for relaxation. Predictability can help reduce anxiety.
Practice Relaxation: If your child is showing signs of excessive anxiety, introducing relaxation strategies can help calm their anxious mind. Engaging your child in simple relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, visualisation, or progressive muscle relaxation can help them regulate their emotions and quieten their racing thoughts. These techniques can also help them manage their anxiety at other times when they're feeling overwhelmed.
Positive Thinking: Encourage your child to focus on positive thoughts and outcomes. Help them reframe their worries into more positive perspectives. Having a daily routine of acknowledging '3 positive/good things that happened today' is a great way to settle down at night and bring positive thoughts to the fore.
Connect with Friends: Help your child reconnect with their school friends. There may be children they may not have seen for the weeks of the summer break and this can bring up anxiety for some children as they face back into their classroom. Reconnecting with familiar faces can make the transition back to school less intimidating.
Stay Calm Yourself: Children often pick up on their parents' emotions. If you're feeling anxious, it's important to find ways of managing your own stress so that you can provide a calm and reassuring environment for your child. Even if you are stressed and anxious about your child returning to school try not to express that anxiety to your child. Children cope better when they know the adults in their life are doing okay.
Problem-Solving: If your child has specific concerns, work together to come up with solutions. Working collaboratively with your child to find solutions empowers them in their own problem solving abilities and instils a greater sense of self-belief. For example, if they're worried about getting lost, help them plan how to navigate their way around the school.
Remember that each child is unique, so the strategies that work best will vary. Be patient, and continue to provide a supportive and understanding environment for your child as they navigate their anxiety about going back to school.
Seek Professional Help: If your child's anxiety seems to be escalating or interfering significantly with their school life, consider consulting with their teacher or home-school liaison officer for further guidance and support. If their anxiety is affecting their daily life outside of school also, then it may be necessary to seek more professional advice. A visit to the childs GP may help rule out any medical reason for their anxiety and the GP may refer your child for professional therapy.
At NorthStar Counselling &Therapy Centre in Enniscorthy, Co.Wexford, we have a number of therapists many of whom work with Children and Adolescents from age 5 – 25.
Feel free to check out our range of therapists at https://www.northstartherapy.ie/about
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