Going back to school shouldn’t make your kids feel anxious. Try these three steps to help ease the process and their minds.
As back-to-school approaches fast—unfortunately, so does back-to-school anxiety in kids. Parents can manage back-to-school anxiety by following three effective steps: (1) prepare and plan for back to school; (2) label fears, validate, and refocus on positives; (3) connect with professionals and supports.
1. PREPARE and PLAN
Preparing and planning for back-to-school provides a sense of control and security, as well as routine and structure. Help your kids manage anxiety by working through these simple tasks:
- Go back-to-school shopping for supplies, outfits etc. This creates excitement about new purchases and starts the conversation naturally.
- Plan a few dry runs of their routes (to school, to the sitters’, etc.) Get out there for a family walk, a bus-ride adventure, or a play date in the spaces your kids will be in prior to September to create a sense of comfort and security.
- Get back on a schedule. Bring back your night-time and morning schedules two weeks prior. This is done to get the kids into the swing of things and to give you a buffer to work through that adjustment period.
- Implement activity books during your anticipated homework time and introduce some appropriate, grade-level content they might be learning come the new year.
2. LABEL FEARS, VALIDATE, AND REFOCUS
Get familiar with common school fears and practice some role plays, check in’s and validation techniques:
- Explore what they are excited about for the coming year; what old and new things are they looking forward to, and what are they least excited for or have questions about? This gives you the opportunity to label the positives in order to refocus on them, as well as gives insight as to what anxieties need to be validated and addressed.
- Create a worry box that your kiddos can decorate and use it to release and store their worries in. As a family you can check in on this box, validate, and problem-solve the worries being stored in the box. The best part is that when the worry no longer exists, your child can rip it up to symbolize that it no longer bothers them. A great addition to this is to keep the ripped pieces of paper to show us all the worries we’ve overcome.
- Role play introductions, meeting new people, asking teachers for help, new responsibilities, etc. Take those worries and make them into a role play so your kiddos can actually practice what it would be like in those situations and learn to navigate through them. Find humour in these moments, role play the wrong way, the right way, and be silly to take the edge off of the fear.
- Create visuals through check-lists, a solution board for anxiety-provoking situations, an excitement board with all the things we are looking forward to, etc., and revisit these often.
3. CONNECTION AND SUPPORT
Reach out to teachers, principals, and other support staff to introduce yourself and/or your child’s anxieties prior to the start of school.
- Enlist the support of siblings, friends, babysitters, and so forth to create a support circle for yourself and your child.
- Connect with tutors or other academic supports you or your child may need.
- See a therapist for a back-to-school prep session prior to school and continue on with them, if need be, throughout the year. At Behaviour Matters, we can provide prep sessions for you and your children, as well as many other additional supports to manage back to school anxiety (www.behaviourmatters.ca).
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Author: Tania DaSilva holds an Honours Bachelors of Arts and Science Degree majoring in Psychology and Sociology. She is certified in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and currently completing certification is Solution-Focused Therapy at OISE University of Toronto. She holds an Honours Advanced Child and Youth Care Diploma from Humber College, specializing in counselling, interventions, treatment and therapeutic activities.