Anxiety over school and separation from parents is very normal for children. But sometimes normal becomes abnormal when children’s anxiety affects their emotional functioning at school, home or day care. Kids can get anxious over getting up early, what dress to wear, fear of being in a new school setting, doing homework after school, and separation from parents. Some common symptoms your child may be expressing are
- Sleepless nights
- Throwing tantrums
As a parent, these may trigger some of your feelings too. You might feel confused, fearful, angry, and other inexpressible feelings. Most parents think, “What can I do to fix this?”.
Some people don’t believe in Back to School Blues but it does exist. Back-to-school blues can stem from many different fears. It’s usually
- the fear of the unknown (e.g. not knowing what teacher you’ll have or what kids will be in your class) or
- the fear of the known (e.g. knowing that it’s going to be a hard year or knowing that the expectations are higher).
The following 8 simple techniques will help your kid overcome these struggles.
- Connect with your kids. Help children explain their feelings of fears and validate them by acknowledging and embracing your child’s feelings. Once you’ve listened, reflect this back to them so that they feel heard and connected.
- Encourage your child to share his/her fears. Ask your child what is making him/her worried. Tell your child that it is normal to have concerns. Before or/and during the first few weeks of school, set up a regular time and place to talk. Some children feel most comfortable in a private space with your undivided attention (e.g. in bed). Other children, welcome some sort of distraction to cut through the tension of their worries and feelings (e.g. a ride in the car).
- Create a predictable routine. Plan a routine for the kids like a consistent waking up time, what clothing to wear, breakfast time and consistent night time routine for the kids every day. Include the kids in this planning, so they take ownership of their actions and their anxiety over the unpredictability will be reduced.
- Do an orientation for the kids before school starts. Taking the kids to school, introducing him or her to the class teacher, show her desk and reviewing the class schedules ahead might help the child reduce the fear of the unknown.
- Reduce anxiety due to last school year struggles. If last year wasn’t a good year for your child, try to think what went wrong so that you can help your child improve this year. Some examples to consider as improvements this year are (a) Have a relaxed schedule (b) Coaching her on social skills to make new friends, (c) Plan of how to respond when being bullied, (d) Structuring a homework time to reduce homework stress.
- Create a goodbye ritual or give a transition object. To ease the child with transition consider creating a consistent goodbye ritual like a hug, a kiss, a comforting phrase, or consider giving them a transition object that is private to both of you. I highly recommend the “The kissing Hand” book for kids who struggle with Separation anxiety.
- Focus on the Positives. Focusing on the positives of the school can ease the anxiety and uplift mood. Some suggestions are (a) meeting new friends, (b) having new school supplies, (c) validating their courage over their efforts of going to school despite their anxiety.
- Parents, leave some “Self – Care” time for you (even if it’s only a few minutes). Dealing with your child’s anxiety can be overwhelming and helpless. Take a break, it doesn’t have to be long – go outside, talk to a loved one about your day, listen to music, read a few chapters in a book, eat a snack; do anything to help you calm down and balanced to help your child cope with his/her anxiety.
If these techniques do not reduce the anxiety for your child don’t wait to talk to a counselor or a trained professional. As a trained mental health professional in child psychotherapy, I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help.