Back to school anxiety
We're getting closer to the end of the summer break and worries around starting back at school start to creep in. It's completely natural to feel slightly anxious about returning to school after a long break, especially as there will usually be a new class teacher, new classroom, perhaps even new classmates and these unfamiliarities can stir up some worries. For some children, they may even be starting a completely new school and with that comes the concerns of making new friends, fitting in, finding their way around the school site and being unfamiliar with timetables and expectations.
Regardless of the situation, there are things that you can do as a parent to recognise back to school anxiety and support your child during this transitional period.
Signs of back to School anxiety may include:
Appearing restless and fidgeting
Changes in eating patterns
Trouble sleeping (e.g.difficulties falling to sleep, nightmares, bedwetting)
Struggles to concentrate
Complaining of stomach pains.
Being more clingy and attached than usual
Expressing negative thoughts or worries
Feeling angry or upset, which could include bouts of unexplained crying
If your child is experiencing signs of anxiety then here are a number of ways that you can support them.
1. Allow them to talk openly.
It’s always best practice to encourage your child to talk to you when something bothers them and for them to know that you will be there to listen to them without judgement. Often, knowing that they can express their feelings helps them feel slightly better.
The worse thing you can do is brush their feelings aside and tell them they are being silly. I know we don’t mean it in this way but brushing aide their anxieties invalidates their feelings and they will then be less likely to want to share their concerns. This can make them feel isolated and add further to their anxieties.
Your job is validate their feelings and demonstrate confidence that they can handle the situation. Use phrases like ‘I know it’s tricky but what can we do to work around this?’ If they’ve been in a similar situation before then remind them that they were brave then and got through the challenges and focus on what helped them cope then.
Talking to your child when they’re busy doing something else helps, as it doesn’t put too much pressure on them to talk. This could be when you’re in the car or on a walk. It’s also important to avoid asking them questions that you know will induce anxiety - e.g. ‘Are you worried that XXX might be sat on your table?' or 'I've heard Mr XXX is really strict as you worried about having him for Maths?'
2. Preparation and transition
It’s beneficial to start preparing for the school transition a
week or so before the first day back. One of the most important transitions is establishing a bed time routine – sleep plays a HUGE factor in how we deal with our anxieties so ensure that your child is going to bed roughly the same time each night and waking up around the time they would normally for school. If they struggle to do this straight away then gradually introduce an earlier bed and wake up time across a number of days. Avoiding electronics two hours before bedtime, having a hot bath or shower and having a dark, relaxing environment all help to ensure a good nights sleep.
You should also make sure that you have a regular eating schedule as a lack of food can leave children feeling irritable and restless. This could be an opportunity to talk about school lunches – picking meals form the school menu or writing a list of options for packed lunches.
Other transitions might include doing a practise run of the journey to and from school – this will remind them of the familiarity and if you are able to walk it then there will be added benefits to the exercise.
No doubt you’ve already purchased the new school uniform, shoes and pencil case. But having everything ready will help ease the stress of the first day. Having their belongings labelled and packed in their bag ready will ensure that the morning starts off in a calm, organised manner and will (hopefully!) mean less stress for your too.
3. Brain Dump
Give your child a notebook where they can write down any concerns they have. This is a great exercise to do before bed as it allows them to get their worries down on paper so that they do not feel that they need to hold them in their head whilst they are sleeping. You can then discuss any worries they have at a convenient time, or agree that it is their private notebook and they can share any worries with you if they choose to do so. I love this exercise because it works with children of all ages. If they can’t write their worries in words then they can draw pictures, use colours, stickers or just scribble.
4. List the positives
We’re all very good at finding the negatives in any situation and the more we concentrate on the negatives, the more space they take up and the more we’ll be on the look out for more negatives. It becomes a vicious cycle.
However, we can train our brains to look for positives. You could ask your child to think
about all the positive things they are looking forward to when they return to school. It could be seeing their friends, topics they will cover, school trips etc... Get them to list as many as they can think of - you could even write them down and stick the list somewhere prominent as a reminder when they begin to veer towards the negatives.
5. Arrange to see a classmate
Positive social interactions release serotonin, a neurotransmitter which helps us to feel happy and cope when life becomes challenging. Research has shown that the presence of a familiar classmate during school transitions can improve children’s emotional adjustment. This could be a good opportunity for the parents to talk as well. Talking with others about your own back-to-school struggles and successes will be a reminder that you’re not alone.
6. Assure them that they are not alone in how they feel
Being slightly nervous or anxious is normal! Reassure them that it’s ok to have these feelings and that everyone else is probably feeling the same. As an ex-teacher myself, I can guarantee that even the teachers experience some level of anxiety about returning to school. Sometimes I think the teachers are actually more anxious than the children!
7. Pay attention to your own behaviour
The start of the school year can induce anxiety in many parents too, particularly if your child is starting at a new school. But remember that children take on cues from the people around them, so if you are feeling worried and anxious then this will heighten the feelings that your child is experiencing. I know it's hard but it's so important that you try to act calm and confident for them. Remember that you are not alone – there will be plenty of parents who are experiencing the same feelings you are.
Although most children are resilient, it's important to pay attention to the signs and levels of anxiety that your child experiences. If your child is prone to anxiety and continues to have difficulty coping, do not hesitate to seek professional help.
Solution Focused Hypnotherapy is one form of support and it is particularly effective in helping both adults and young people cope with anxiety. It’s works well with children because it is a gentle, positive form of therapy, with the additional advantage that it does not rely on the child being able to articulate what they are feeling or why. Hypnotherapy is natural, non-invasive and helps to teach them tools that will enable them to cope.
To learn more about Hypnotherapy for children click here: https://www.nchypnotherapy.co.uk/hypnotherapyforchildren
If you are interested in how hypnotherapy might help you or your child's anxiety, please do not hesitate to contact me for a free initial chat.