How to help kids through back to school anxiety

There’s only a week to go before we start packing lunches and zipping up backpacks, and your child is probably already thinking about heading back to school. It’s completely normal for kids to experience some worries with a transition like this. Thankfully, there are proactive things you can do to help your kiddo cope.

child reading school book
Some kids need a little help making the transition back to school

We talked with Stephenie Gold, MA, a Registered Clinical Counsellor and Director at LEAP Clinic provides therapy for children and youth with anxiety and mood-related challenges, as well as parent consultation.

Five great tips on how to help our kids’ through their school anxiety

Help your child picture what it will be like.

Anxiety likes to “fill in the blanks”. Help your child picture what the first days will be like, while acknowledging that some uncertainty comes with any big change in life (which leaves room for good surprises!). For example, take your child on a fun explorer adventure to get used to school grounds, the bathrooms, where and when she will eat lunch, and her new classroom. Use the school playground on weekends leading up to the first day, and practice walking or driving to school.  Before school starts, meet up with families in the same class so your child sees familiar faces the first day.

Help your child feel connected to his teacher, even if they haven’t met yet.

Use the teachers name at home as much as possible. Find out things the teacher has in common with your child (Wow, you both love rock-climbing!). Pick something to show or give the teacher the first day (e.g. a drawing, a special rock). And of course, speak positively about how much the teacher is looking forward to having your child in her class, and that she is there to take care of him.

Many younger children worry about when the parents leave.

Reassure your child that you will never sneak out. Develop a little ‘goodbye’ ritual in advance. Leave your child with something of yours to hold on to (e.g. a photo of your family, your scarf). Give her a special heart-shaped note to open at lunch.  Importantly, focus your child’s attention on the specifics your reunion after school– what time and where you will be waiting, and how excited you will be to hear all about her day.

Expect that your child will have back-to-school jitters – this is completely normal.

If your child expresses worries, talk through the emotions (“It makes sense you have some butterflies, it’s something new, and it takes time to get used to changes”). Remind your child of times she has been nervous and still done scary things, without knowing exactly what will happen. This is the definition of courage!

Finally, be positive!

You may even be experiencing some separation anxiety or concerns yourself, but it is best to have a warm, confident attitude about how it will all go. Convey belief if your child’s ability to handle it. Your child will pick up cues from you, so try to hide your own worries and meet a good friend afterwards to talk it out.  Acknowledge that this is also a big transition time for you as well, and that having mixed feelings is expected.  And don’t forget to give yourself a pat on the back too!

Stephenie Gold, MA, is a Registered Clinical Counsellor and Director at LEAP Clinic, which specializes in providing therapy for children and youth with anxiety and mood-related challenges.

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