Back to school anxiety tips for parents and carers

A mother walks her two children to school in the rain.

Back to school anxiety tips for parents

While we may not want to give up on summer yet, sadly it’s time to prepare to go back to school. Amongst the shopping for school shoes and labelling shirts, we also need to check in on how our children are feeling. For many, going back to school– or starting at a new school- is the cause of anxiety.

In this blog, we explore a range of tips and advice you can use to help a child with anxiety about school, so you can support your kids, whatever their age, to settle into the swing of school days more easily.

The nervous primary school child

Watching a teacher having to take your crying child into the classroom can be upsetting. However, there is plenty you can do to help them deal with back to school anxiety.

Let’s take a look at how to help a child with anxiety about school:

  • Let them know that you’ll always be back!

It can be frightening for a child who has always been with mummy or daddy to have to be left in an alien environment with near-strangers. However, you can explain to your child on the way to school every day that you will always return to pick them up at the end of the day and your separation is only temporary.

  • Comforting school buddies

Many schools allow young children to bring a cuddly toy with them when going back to school. Their cuddly friend serves as a comfort while they’re there, even if toys have to be left in their tray. You can also tell little ones that their toy is there to ‘look after’ them while mummy is at home!

Mother walking her daughter back to school.
  • Understanding

Make sure you don’t tell off a child who is struggling with separation or school-based anxiety; their feelings about school might be overwhelming. Listen to your child’s worries and concerns. Explain to them that you understand how they feel, but they will enjoy playing with their friends and will have fun.

  • Tears don’t last

Rest assured that the teachers and teaching assistants will be well versed in helping distract upset little ones. Chances are that within 5 minutes of you leaving them at school, your child will be happily joining in with the rest of the class.

Back to School Anxiety in Teenagers

Starting or going back to secondary school can be daunting. The big step from cosy primary school to a large secondary with strangers and a heavier school day can prove difficult. Or, perhaps your child hasn’t had the easiest time at school in recent years or experiences school-based anxiety and isn’t keen to return. This can be an uneasy time for older children, but there are things you can do to help when the kids go back to school.

  • Be their support system

Firstly, let them know that you’ll support them, no matter what life at school throws at them. If they’re struggling with their school work, you’ll help them figure it out. If they’ve got problems with friends, you’ll work through it together. You are their cheerleader! ‘They need to know that you’re rooting for them back home,’ says Spurgeons CEO Ian Soars. ‘They need to see that you understand those pressures and that you’re the safe space for them to air anything if they need to do that.’

  • Talk

Encourage your child to talk to you about how they’re doing. If it seems tricky to start those conversations you could try doing so while taking the dog for a walk together, or during another relaxed time- like in the car (more on that in a minute!).

Mother with her child as she goes back to school.

They need to know you're rooting for them back home.

  • Give them space to decompress

Offer downtime. When they come in from school, it can be a good idea to schedule half an hour of time for them to chill out before starting homework or study. Finding a balance between work and play is key to maintaining positive mental health and keeping a lid on any school-based anxiety.

  • Celebrate wins

Recognise any little wins, as well as big successes. Maybe they tried a new club at school- even if they didn’t like it, that took courage! Perhaps they put their hand up to answer a question at school today- for a shy child that’s a big deal. ‘Wins’ don’t have to be winning awards or coming first on sports day; every day contains a win if you look hard enough.

  • Get some fresh air

A change of scene and some fresh air can help lift the spirits and open up the path for communication. Going for a walk or drive can work even on non-communicative teens. ‘Communication is key,’ says Spurgeons CEO Ian Soars. ‘When you go for a drive or walk you are alongside each other. It’s non-confrontational. Ask how they’re doing and follow the threads that they give you. Make sure that those communication lines remain open.’

  • Routine is key

‘Keep bedtimes regular and early because they need the sleep. Also keep mealtimes regular and eat with your kids if you can,’ advises Ian. Routines offer comfort in a child’s life and provides stability when they are going through a stressful time. You could stick the morning routine up on the fridge, along with an evening routine encompassing both downtime and homework.

Looking for further support to get prepared before the kids go back to school? Then explore some of our other blogs for tips, advice and guidance.

Further Reading:

A message from Spurgeons CEO Ian Soars to parents on supporting your child’s return to school

How to help your child transition to secondary school

This blog originally appeared on DAD.Info.

Advice and Tips from our CEO Ian Soars

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