Updated: Jul 21
Going back to school isn’t always fun and games for every child but there are things you can do as a parent that can help free your child from anxiety
For many children going back to school after a break is fresh and exciting however children that struggle with anxiety the transition going back to school isn’t quite as smooth.
Anticipatory anxiety is common for children with anxiety disorders and it can start even weeks before the first day of school. Things that can trigger the anxiety can include fears or worries about being in a new classroom, having a new teacher, getting to class on time, making friends and many more.
Anxiety is a normal and healthy part of childhood and is common for children to experience fear and worry at some point in their life as it can actually help children build resilience and learn to deal with the world around them. However, some children can develop extreme anxiety symptoms which can interfere with many aspects of their day to day life.
Symptoms can affect their ability to perform well in school, social and family relationships and can make it difficult to complete even normal daily living skills such as sleeping and healthy eating.
According to Anxiety UK, 1 in 6 young people will experience an anxiety condition at some point in their life
As children prepare to transition back to school, it is important for parents to prioritise anxiety management and ensure that there are plans in place to help children learn to cope with their anxiety.
Children that experience anxiety tend to get caught in an anxious thought cycle and will commonly repeatedly ask the same questions. Children that continue to ask about the teacher, classroom, schedule or other children in their class is likely to be a child that is seeking reassurance.
A child that is experiencing anticipatory anxiety will have a mind full of ‘What If’ questions.
Helping children deal with Anticipatory Anxiety
It is common, when children ask questions for parents to dismiss worries by responding with phrases like, “You’ll be fine” or “Try not to worry, it will all be OK”.
Although this might seem like a good option, phrases like this rarely helps children deal with their anxiety.
1) Encourage your child to speak about their specific worries and verbalise the different possibilities
If your child expresses a concern of worry ask them to verbalise the different possibilities and then come up with a positive counter thought to empower your child to work through the anxious thought.
Anxiety Worry – ‘What if my new teacher isn’t very nice?'
Positive Counter Thoughts – ‘My new teacher is there to help me learn and support me, just like my old teacher.’
Anxiety Worry – ‘What if the work is too hard for me this year?’
Positive Counter Thought - ‘If there is something, I don’t understand I can always ask my teacher'
Ignoring or pushing down anxieties and worries will only cause it to escalate making matters worse. By expressing the worries and talking them through helps the child to understand and build coping strategies.
2) Establish healthy habits & routines – Sleep, Diet & Exercise
During the holidays, it is common for a child’s routine to get muddled about and can often result in later bedtimes, extra sweets and lack of exercise. Veering too far off a child’s normal living schedule can negatively impact the child’s anxiety symptoms when it is time to go back to school.
Make sure to focus on establishing healthy habits before the first day of school such as encouraging an earlier bedtime each night by ten minutes every few nights until you reach the school bedtime schedule. Explain to your child about the connection between a good night’s sleep and lower anxiety levels.
Ensure your child has a healthy diet and drinks plenty of water as dehydration can trigger exhaustion and anxiety. Try planning your meals in advance and organise one night a week where you cook a healthy meal with your child. This can help to teach them valuable life skills and can turn meal time into something exciting.
Encouraging fun daily exercise is a great anxiety management tool. Try and find something your child might like doing such as a family bike ride, a family walk in the woods, a climbing centre, swimming, karate or playing on a physical online game like a WII however we would encourage doing an activity that gets children out in nature and away from a computer screen.
3) Give your child time to practice
For some children, one of their main concerns is getting lost as they do not know their new environment. A simple task of walking around the new school with your child can help give them a sense of control over the situation, gain knowledge about the layout of the school and can help to eliminate some fears or worries about getting lost.
You could treat the activity like a game tracing your steps around the school and finding key rooms or spaces such as the toilets or lunch hall.
4) Create an Anxiety Plan
If your child suffers from anxiety it is a good idea to inform their future teacher and have an anxiety plan in place. Please also be aware that children with anxiety disorders can qualify for classroom accommodations so make sure you discuss this with the school.
Look at different anxiety plan options for your child such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation or using a stress balls for when your child is experiencing anxiety symptoms.
Our 7 week transitional program supports year 6 children with the big move up to secondary school. Each week we cover a set theme that prepares children for things they might be concerned about such as cyber bullying, making friends and work overload. This program helps build children’s self-esteem, confidence and resilience so they can transition to secondary school smoothly and confidently.
Have Remarkable Me in your school and provide your pupils with the support they need to move up to secondary school.
For more information go to www.remarkableme.uk