Happy September Everyone and Welcome (back) to School!
The first days of the school year are exciting ones. However, it can also include some other feelings too, like anxiousness, anger, or even sadness. For some, it may be their first year in school. Many children also have some feelings of nervousness to go along with the excitement of a new school year. Who will be my teacher? Will I have my friends in my class? Will this next grade be hard? All of these are common and valid questions. The tough thing can be that excitement and nervousness sometimes feels very similar in our bodies. In some cases the nervous feelings drown out the exciting thoughts and feelings, even to the extent of causing a child to feel reluctant to go to school.
What Are The Signs and Symptoms of School Anxiety?
Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between run-of-the-mill worries about the first day of school and stronger anxiety that might need some extra help to overcome. Many times your child will tell you about their feelings. However, kids can sometimes not be as vocal about their anxiety, and their symptoms may be more body-based. Here are a few clues to look out for if you think your child might be struggling with school anxiety:
Headaches, upset stomach, or complaints of other physical problems on school mornings
- Inconsistent or difficulties sleeping
Frequent physical complaints at school, without a clear illness
Repeated worries about bad things that could happen while at school, such as getting sick
Tantrums, anger, or outright refusal to go to school
Large emotions to situations they traditionally are able to handle (anger, panic attacks etc.)
Anxiety that seems to be more intense or long-lasting than what is usual for the child’s age
One or more of these symptoms might indicate that your child’s worries about school are stronger than they need to be, and they could use some help to move past them.
Tips for Supporting your Child Back to School
The Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre has a recent article that might be helpful. Here are some tips that they have identified that might help you support your child as they return to school, or attend for the first time.
- Identify what is still in your control and your child’s control – Focus on what’s in your control, rather than on the unknowns. While we all would prefer certainty, pandemic times are challenging our ‘flexibility’ muscles in addition to our ‘perseverance’ muscles. Practice what you can do in the short term (e.g., the coming days or weeks) and try not to look too far ahead. Focus on practical things that help to keep us all safe – like regular handwashing and staying home when sick – rather than on the ‘what ifs.’
- Confidence is key – As a parent, your confidence is an essential part of helping your child transition back to school successfully. Children pick up on our fear! If you find yourself doubting your decision, you might want to try writing down the reasons why you want your child to return to school and review them regularly. And most importantly, remember to communicate this confidence to your child – this will help both you and them keep anxiety in check.
- Help your child prepare for school return – There’s actually a lot you can do to help your child prepare for return to school. Practice your routines (for now) and stay flexible. This could include things like going over the home morning routine, practicing the route you’ll take the school, and even doing a practice ‘drop off’ so your child knows what to expect. Have your child meet up with a friend at a park – allow them an opportunity to connect socially again before seeing a friend back at school. Going through these steps a few times before school actually starts will help your child get ‘back in the swing of things.’ It probably isn’t a bad idea for you either! Starting to get your child’s sleep schedule back on a ‘school schedule’ and eating well with regular meals and snacks are also ways you can start to get your child ready for return to school.
- Expect some anxiety – Most families are likely experiencing some level of anxiety or stress as they prepare for the return to school. However, if you’re ready for it, your own and your child’s anxiety won’t throw you off as much. Try some mindfulness activities as a family, and get outside together for some family fun when you can. It can also be helpful to practice scenarios with your child to help them know how to manage anxious feelings that may arise (e.g. deep breathing, running around on the playground at recess), and how to tackle challenging situations that may come up once they start school (e.g., if they are wearing a mask outside on the playground at school and their friends are not, practice how they can respond to questions about this).
- Reach out for help if you need it – It’s not a sign of failure or weakness to need some help ever – and especially now. So many families are nervous about back to school, and understandably so. Connect with your the administration or counsellors at your child’s school. Also have support networks in place for you as a parent or caregiver. Find a friend who will listen, keep you positive, and lift you up – and you can do the same for them! Social connection is essential for this hard work and we are stronger together.
7. Relationships are critical – Students with strong and trusting relationships with their teachers, as well as friendships with peers, are more likely to want to be at school and view it as a safe place to be. Your child’s teacher will be working hard on developing their relationship with your child. As a parent, you can help your child by facilitating opportunities for your child to make friendships with peers in their class (eg play dates, extra-curriculars etc.)
8. True learning happens in moments of manageable stress – Stress that is not overwhelming (ie mild stress vs Panic attacks) presents people with opportunities to grow and learn beyond their present capabilities. Most students will have some nervous feelings when going through changes like at the beginning of a school year. These are opportunities for growth if these nervous feelings are not overwhelming. If they are larger emotions please let your teacher and/or myself know so that we can come up with additional supports to assist your child.
As always I am here to support your family, as well as your child here at school. Challenges transitioning back to school is one area that I assist with but I work with many children supporting a diversity of mental health needs. If you feel like your child would benefit from some extra support please be in contact with me and we can discuss how we can help your child be successful at school. You can reach me by emailing me at email@example.com to arrange a time to speak on the phone, online, or in person.
I look forward to a fun and exciting year filled with learning and growth.