Tackling back-to-school anxiety

The hot, sticky weather has reached its sweaty peak and you’re being bombarded with stationery and uniform adverts. It can only mean one thing: the holidays are almost over and it’s time to head back to school. 

Starting a new school year can be an exciting time, but also an anxious one. Lots of kids – and their parents – feel nervous in the buildup to their first day back. This is really common, but that doesn’t make it any less stressful! Having your child attend school for the first time or starting a new school can create even more anxiety.

Preparation is key to dealing with situations where there are lots of unknowns. The more things feel familiar and controlled, the more your child or young person can relax and feel confident about what’s happening. 

For primary school kids
  • Get back into the school-day routine at least a week early – waking up, eating and going to bed at regular times.
  • Get your child involved in planning out their lunches and snacks for the first week back. 
  • For anxious kids, plenty of detail can be calming. Talk through the steps of getting to their classroom: "And then we hang up our bag on our hook; we say hi to our friends; we find our seat...etc"  
  • Stick to familiar routines as much as possible. Try to have a calm evening and allow more time to settle before bedtime if your child is feeling excited or nervous about school.
  • Help your child pack their bag the night before. A visual checklist can help them remember what they need to take. Lay out their clothes so everything’s ready for the morning.
  • Allow some extra time to get ready on day one so you’re not rushing.
For teenagers
  • The same benefits of setting a routine apply whether you’re five, 15 or 50. Encourage your teen to take responsibility for getting back into the swing of things the week before school starts, which unfortunately means an end to any late-night Xbox marathons.
  • Help your young person set some realistic, achievable goals for the year.
  • Talk through any issues or fears they might have – whether these are about friends, grades or teachers. Instead of focusing on hypothetical ‘what ifs’, try and steer them towards ‘what is’…and what they can do to change the situation.
  • Have a couple of practice runs at getting to school together, especially if your young person is going to be using public transport on their own. They’re not going to want you cramping their style when school starts, so make sure they’re feeling confident about doing the trip solo. 

Starting school for the first time?

Sending your little one off to ‘big school’ can be daunting – for parents as much as kids.

As well as the tips for primary school children above, you could try some of the following strategies: 

  1. Have a few ‘dry runs’ of the trip to and from school so your child is familiar with the route and what to expect.
  2. Set up some playdates in the holidays with local kids who are also starting school so they see some familiar faces on day one. 
  3. Visit the school – check out the playground, find their classroom and have a wander round so they can get used to where things are. 
  4. Invent a fun routine to make saying goodbye a bit easier – try a high-five, bear hug or secret handshake. 
  5. Talk positively about the day ahead on the way to school and remind your child where you’ll be at pick-up time.
  6. Drawn-out goodbyes can be upsetting, especially if other kids are getting emotional. Once your child is settled in their classroom, give them some final positive reassurance and beat a hasty retreat. 
  7. Try to limit other activities during the first few weeks – the transition to school can be tiring and kids need down time. 
  8. Schedule a family celebration or a Skype call from grandparents on the weekend to mark the milestone – after all, starting school is a pretty big deal! 

And finally, check your own behaviour

The start of the school year can be a nervous time for parents as much as kids, but it’s important to try and keep your own anxiety levels under control. The more you can stay calm and present school as a fun, positive experience – rather than a necessary evil – the better.

Should I be worried?

It can take a few weeks for kids to adjust to their new class, make friends and get to know their teachers. Children starting a new school can also feel a sense of loss at having to leave their familiar environment behind.

If you notice changes in your child's behaviour lasting beyond the first couple of weeks, speak to school staff about your concerns. 

Complete our child mental health checklist
primary school

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