Back To School Tips & Easing School Anxiety
It’s back to school time for so many parents and children! My daughter could not be more excited about starting kindergarten soon and is asking so many questions about what she will be doing, learning, and playing. I remember being that age and feeling both so eager and slightly nervous about starting a new school and wondering what it would be like.
Back to school time also means it back to work for me and all of you teachers and educators out there. I think the time off during summer is well deserved and a much needed break from the school year.
Back to school time can be a busy one. The return of more structured school and work days can bring along some added stress and anxiety. Here are some things I’ve found helpful in making the transition back to work and school a little less stressful:
Re-establish those bedtime and mealtime routines that may have gotten a bit lax over the summer. Do this at least a week in advance to give everyone time to adjust. If they’ve been staying up late all summer, they won’t be able to fall asleep on time the night before school starts without easing into it. With mealtimes, let your kids know what time breakfast will be served (or what time the kitchen is opened and closed if they’re old enough to make their own meals) and what’s expected before they sit down for a meal. With my kids who happen to be big eaters, it has been helpful to have them get dressed and ready first and have their breakfast (something they look forward to) last.
Visit the school with your child in advance if they will be attending a new school or if they’re young. Check with their school about new student tours! This will help acquaint them with their new space and help ease the back to school jitters a bit.
Shut off those screens. When my kids started waking up early and I hit the snooze button a few too many times, I started to use the T.V. as a babysitter on some mornings so I could finish getting myself ready. I then realized it actually made our mornings more stressful: tons of whining when it was time to turn off the T.V., kids becoming absorbed by the screen and not doing what they were capable of doing to get themselves ready. Not to mention that after staring at a screen they weren’t in the best state to begin learning. Encourage your kids to play, color, or read after they’re done getting ready if there’s still time before you need to leave.
Have a practice run! Before school starts, have your kids practice getting ready for school by setting their alarms, getting ready by the time they need to be ready, and actually go practice drop off, walking, or going to the bus stop. This will let you know what tweaks you may need to make in your morning routines and help things go more smoothly.
Pick out clothes ahead of time, the night before. I’ve seen some parents that pick out their clothes for an entire week and have them in labeled drawers or hangers so there’s no questions about what to wear, where something is, etc.
I’ve been lucky so far that both of my kids have transitioned well to their school and child care centers, but as a school psychologist, I’ve always worked with many kids who experience some degree of school anxiety. Here are some strategies that I’ve found helpful:
Acknowledge and validate your child’s feelings and let them know you care about them. Spend a few uninterrupted moments with them in the morning talking, reading, snuggling, whatever it is that helps them connect. Leave little notes in their lunch box or folder that tell them that you care and love them. They can do it
Do not drag out the goodbye. Lingering around at school does not help the situation. It can show that you do not think your child can cope which can exacerbate the situation. (p.s. There are some instances or situations in which parents truly need to be there, and the school should let you know when those are.) I have found it helpful to let you child know you love them and will see them after school. Keep it short and then say you’ll see them later.
If their anxiety is related to a past bad experience or situation that happened at school, make sure this situation has been addressed by the school. If needed, you may want to contact the teacher, counselor, or psychologist for resources or support.
Help your child establish or reestablish friendships with other kids at school before school starts. Seeking out opportunities for them to interact with other kids can help them feel more comfortable when they see a familiar face at school.
Whether you go to public or private school or homeschool, I’m wishing you a wonderful school year!