By Karli Steenkamp
Starting school or going back-to-school can cause anxiety in many children. These feelings are normal and don’t necessarily mean your child is unhappy at school. Luckily there are a few things parents can do to try and ease those back-to-school anxieties.
- Listen carefully and pay attention
Children often express their emotions in different ways. Some are hyperactive, others are withdrawn. They do sometimes give hints about how they are feeling in the most subtle ways. Listen carefully at bedtime, at the dinner table and even when they play. Ask questions about how they feel about school to gain information on what is bothering them. That way you can set up an action plan to deal with those anxieties.
- Organise play dates
Organise play dates with your child’s school friends closer to the start of school. It can help the children bond with each other before they start the school year. If their friends are in the same school, they have something familiar to look forward to in class or at playtime.
- Become familiar with the school
It is always good to be prepared and know what to expect. Go to all the orientation programs. This helps put your child at ease. If they are going moving grades in the same school, take a walk or drive to school and start becoming familiar with the surroundings again. Some schools do offer transition programs helping students with their anxieties and allowing them to be familiar with the school, teachers and the classroom.
Talk about what is making your child anxious. If they do not want to talk, let them draw you a picture or write it down. When you know what is making them anxious, then you can think together about ways to overcome these. Talk about what a typical day in school will look like and what you do when you are at school. This helps children see that you are feeling confident about them going back to school and that you have faith in them.
Children thrive on routine. Get back into a school routine a few days before school starts. A child copes better with anxieties when they have enough sleep, regular healthy meals, and a good routine. This will also help them get used to the structure of the classroom once again. It makes them feel safe and confident knowing what to expect next.
A great way to get little children ready for school is by making a fun countdown calendar for them, with activities or a joke for each day. They do not know the sense of time, so counting days can help put time into perspective for them. Colouring sheets about school can help ease the anxiety because not only is colouring therapeutic, but they can also visualise the whole process of school. Older kids might like to help you plan their lunchbox menu for the week. Sit together and work out what they would like for school then your shopping list is also done. Two things done in one go.
It is an exciting time, but also an anxious time, whether your child loves or dislike school. You as a parent might also feel anxious about the new school year, but make sure that your child does not feed off your anxiety. Make sure to keep up those play dates during the term as well to help nurture those friendships. Stay calm and tackle back-to-school anxieties with a clear mind.