Thomas is entering second grade this year and is definitely experiencing Back-to-School Anxiety about it because it is “hard” and “Zack won’t be there” to help him out if there are any problems. Plus, he is going to have to ride the bus by himself every day this year!
When kids experience anxiety about going back to school, it can have an effect on parents as well. It seems like there’s nothing you can do, and the closer the first day of school gets, the more miserable parents and kids feel.
Some practical tips on how to ease this anxiety, though, can help alleviate the back-to-school fears. Here are some ideas.
Try to Understand
Maybe you didn’t ever suffer from this kind of anxiety as a child; or maybe you did, but you still just want your child to get over it. However, just getting annoyed and telling your child to get over it is not necessarily productive, and may actually make anxiety worse.
Psychologists recommend a bit of understanding – while the anxiety should not be “calling the shots,” the fact that your child is feeling very real fear should be respected. Your child needs some coping mechanisms, and that means you need to address the fear rather than denying it.
Putting Things in Perspective
School can seem big and scary to a child. Psychologists recommend “putting the fear in its place” – identify the fear and give your child power over it. Give the fear a name, such as the Worry Worm, to help your child know when it’s the anxiety talking, not reality.
Tell your child that the Worry Worm says things that aren’t true (something bad will happen to me if I go to school), but your child can tell the Worry Worm to back off because he or she knows the truth (you’re safe at school). For older kids and teens, you can identify the fear in a more age-appropriate way.
Know Your Teacher
It can make all the difference if your child knows their teacher. Try to set up more than one meeting with the teacher before the school year starts, so your child will be going to see a familiar face. Take a tour or two of the school and the new classroom, too.
It’s possible that your child may need therapy to help overcome his fear of going back to school. Your child’s teacher has probably seen this before, and may have references for you. You could also ask your family doctor or pediatrician for a referral to a psychologists and/or therapist. If you choose to go the therapy route, it’s a good idea to start a month or more before school starts, and perhaps continue the therapy during the year.
Sometimes, parents can inadvertently “feed” their child’s anxiety. If you are anxious about your child’s anxiety, it can make the situation worse. Try to be confident in your child’s ability to make it through the school day. While understanding your child’s feelings is important, inflating them is not. Let your child know she can do it by being confident and decisive in leaving her.
Some experts recommend a “goodbye ritual” to help ease transitions back into school. This can help a child feel more secure – if you say goodbye the same way every day, then perhaps your child will be more confident that you will return the same way, too.
Try coming up with something unique to your relationship with your child – a special handshake, phrase, or promise for later in the day (just make sure you follow through on any promise).