6 Back to School Tips to Ease Your Child’s Anxiety
It’s that time of year! Most kids, parents and teachers are excited to jump into the new school year. Yet for some kids, it can be terrifying, or at the least, be overwhelming. It is NORMAL for kids (parents and teachers, too) to feel a mix of excitement and nervousness. There are a lot of unknowns when starting a new school year. What will my teacher be like? What will I learn? Who will I sit next to during class? During lunch? What if it’s too hard? Too easy?
Leaving parents, the ‘not knowing’, and even the transition from a less structured time to a more structured time can all be possible causes of anxiety. But have no fear (pun intended), YOU can help your child get through this! Here are 5 tips to help you with a smooth transition to school this year.
Start getting into a routine a week or two before school starts. Practice morning and bedtime routines so your child gets develops a habit and can get the required amount of sleep. (see blog on Morning Routines or Bedtime Routines). Most elementary school aged children need 9-11 hours and older children need 8-10 hours of sleep. Practice walking to school or walking to the bus stop. Time your morning routines and the walk to see how much time it takes. Add 15 minutes to that time, once school actually starts, in case there’s a delay or someone gets side tracked. You can always have a special activity (i.e., cuddle and read a book together) if you get done early.
2. Stay Calm.
One of the most important things is for you, the grown-up, to remain calm. If you get all worked up or appear anxious, your child will pick up on your feelings. That’s not to say that you can’t feel anxious or sad – my kids are going into middle and high school and I still get tear-y eyed after they walk into the school. Notice I said “after” they walk into the school. Do your best to keep a calm appearance when you are with your child.
3. Stay Positive.
For kids who are anxious or scared about school, focus on the positives of school. That doesn’t mean you can’t talk about things that worry your child, but answer them in a calm and positive manner. Mention things your child feels confident about (she is good at math, he has met the teacher and she has a nice smile). Smile when you talk about school and offer things that you remember enjoying when you were in school, even if it was playing on the monkey bars at recess.
4. Ask Questions.
Think of a list of questions and pick one or two each day. Ask your child as he heads off to school and then ask for the answers when he returns home. You could even make these ‘special missions.’ An example question/mission could be: “When you get home, I’d like to know who you sat next to in lunch today and one food that person had that you might want in your lunch in the future.”
Remember to ask the question again when your child gets home.
5. Something Special.
Do or have something special for your child. You could designate a special snack that she only gets when she’s at school (not an ‘at home’ snack). Maybe there is a special shirt you bought him to wear on the first day. Pick out special notebooks for school together. Decorate the notebooks if they are plain. Don’t forget to take and/or use pictures!
Before my daughters could read, I would put a new picture in a zip top bag taped to the inside of their lunch boxes every Monday. I still put a picture in on the first day of school, but now I write little love notes every once in a while, throughout the year. “Good luck on your test!” “Smile!” “You are Awesome!”
6. Do Something for YOU.
If it’s been a challenging few weeks, or if it is difficult for you to see your child go off to school, make sure YOU have plans after you drop him/her off that first day. Go out for coffee with another parent, walk the dog, schedule a playdate with your friend. Do something to take your mind off your child. Teachers are aware that the first day can be tough for some children. They have all kinds of tricks up their sleeves to help their students feel welcome, comfortable, and included. Most kids who cling, or leave their parents tear-y eyed at the door (meaning the kids, not the parents), are fine moments after the door shuts and their little minds are engaged in doing something fun.
YOU CAN DO THIS!!
Halloween is creeping up… and ghosts and goblins are jumping out at us along with witches and vampires.
How do you help a child who is scared of everything make it through the Halloween season?
Young children can have a hard time determining what is real and what is imaginary. They honestly can’t differentiate between the two. Sometimes, it is not just the things they see, but rather what their little minds create, what is known as “magical thinking,” that can frighten them.
To put it in a regular-day, not Halloween related context, an example of a common “magical thought” can be seen when a child is scared to take a bath because she sees the water going down the drain and thinks she might be washed down with it. As adults we know this is impossible, but young children do not.
This same magical thinking causes children to believe that ghosts and goblins might come after them at night.
So, what can you do to help your child who is scared? Here are 5 suggestions:
1. Don’t try to minimize the fear. Be there to support your child. The fear is real to him. Hold his hand, walk on the other side of the street, whatever it takes to support him.
Identify what your child is afraid of. Once your child is able to verbalize her fear, or when you are able to figure it out if your child is unable to verbalize, you can help decrease the anxiety. Is your child scared of the many creepy things walking around and people running everywhere? Maybe she doesn’t like going up to strangers’ houses (not necessarily a bad thing on normal evenings!). Or is it that your child is scared of Halloween because it’s dark outside?
Help your child deal with his fear, don’t force him to eliminate the fear. Help your child understand what he is scared of and listen to why he is afraid. Help put the scary thing into perspective. Many things at Halloween were invented to let people have fun scaring each other.
Recognize signs of anxiety. Some obvious signs of anxiety include your child clinging to you with a vice grip hold you didn’t know her tiny hands could accomplish. Crying, shrieking or hiding behind you are also more obvious signs of anxiety. Short breaths, timid steps, and slowing down while walking towards something are slightly less obvious signs of anxiety. Appearing angry or more violent (hitting or kicking you or siblings/friends) are also possible signs of anxiety.
Be Flexible. Maybe Halloween is your most favorite holiday and you like to go all out…you might need to adjust a bit for a year or two. If your child is scared of the dark, find day time, child-friendly Halloween events (check out local malls or Trunk-or-Treats). If your child is scared of going to strangers’ houses, take him to a few of your neighbors’ houses and call it a night. For children who are scared of all of the creepy things that go Boo in the night, turn off your lights and go to a back room, or bedroom to play a game or cuddle and read stories.
In time, most children grow out of their Halloween anxiety. If you are willing to be patient, flexible and support them, they will be just fine. As they get older, children learn the difference between real and imaginary and many even find out that they enjoy being scared or being the one who scares someone else every now and then.