Starting school is a big deal. It involves a new routine, new environment, new relationships, new rules, new expectations and more – all things that can make for a lot of anxiety if you don't help your child navigate it.
For some children, the start of school signals the first time they will be separated from a parent for any real length of time. With all of the changes and new experiences starting school brings, it’s no surprise that the start of school can trigger anxiety in some children (and parents!).
If your child complains of not feeling well and asks to stay home from school, refuses to go to school, experiences issues with separation or expresses consistent worry about school over a significant length of time, your child may be suffering from anxiety related to school.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to ease their anxiety and empower them to successfully manage their transition into school.
Here's 5 tips you may find helpful to getting your kids off to the right start:
Provide a consistent routine.
When change is approaching, a good rule of thumb is always to keep what you can consistent. Consistency breeds feelings of safety and security. Develop a consistent morning and evening routine and a good bye routine for school drop off. Consider packing similar snacks and lunches each day and avoid any other lifestyle changes during the back to school transition period.
Keep the lines of communication open.
Ask open ended questions about how your child is feeling. “How do you feel about starting school?" "Tell me about your friends" and “Do you have any concerns about school?” are all great conversation starters. Let your child know you are always available to listen and you want to know how she feeling.
Role playing is a great way to act out anxiety provoking situations. Acting out what to do if you have to go to the bathroom during class or what to do if another child is teasing you can help empower a child to navigate tough situations.
Create clear expectations.
Communicate to your child when it is and when it is not acceptable to miss school and what your school behavioural expectations are. Reinforce school rules and teacher expectations by talking about them at home. It’s important to validate your child’s feelings, but not her behaviour. For example, if your child is complaining of a headache because she doesn’t want to go to school, let her know that headaches happen sometimes, but usually go away shortly and aren’t a reason for staying home from school. Obviously if your child has real symptoms that signal a true illness and warrant staying home, by all means keep her home.
Reach out for help.
Talk to your child’s teacher, school nurse and health care provider if you sense your child may be having school related anxiety. They can provide resources and tools for helping you and your child to have a successful school year.
As a parent, it can be so tempting to rescue our children from scary situations or situations that require change. But doing so often reinforces that there is something that is scary enough to need rescuing from and that we don’t believe our child is capable of successfully navigating change. Helping our children face fears head on by empowering them with tools, resources and skill building measures to handle new situations will set them up for back to school success.