The start of the new school year and going back to school can be a difficult time for many children. I experienced what my parents dismissively labeled ‘schoolitis’ throughout my junior school career. This ‘affliction’ caused tummy aches, insomnia and sometimes school refusal.
There can be a number of reasons why children get anxious about going back to school. For me, one of the issues is the false sense of excitement created by adults without acknowledging some of the feelings and uncertainties that many children experience. Telling your child that it is exciting that they are going to a “wonderful new school/class/teacher etc….” doesn’t necessarily make it exciting. It is tantamount to telling an adult how wonderful it will be for them to stand up in front of 500 people to give an impromptu speech.
School anxiety may be related to the school environment or be totally unrelated to school.
Here are some things that you can do:
Talk about it:
Validating and identifying different feelings such as fear, uncertainty, nervousness is an important way to help your child deal with back to school anxiety. If you can, (like I can), talk about your own experiences of school or uncertainty in different situations. I addressed some of the ways of talking about feelings and emotions in my post the language of emotions.
Back to school time can be particularly difficult for children who have learning difficulties. The transition from the less structured holiday time to the highly structured school environment is often more challenging for these children.
Start establishing a routine as soon as possible before school starts. ‘Early to bed, early to rise’ will facilitate better sleep patterns and a child who is not over-tired and grumpy.
Ensure that your child has all the items required for the first day of school. If they are aware that their needs have been met, they are less likely to feel anxious not having their needs met at school
Younger children often have difficulty understanding the concept of time. They may even have difficulty predicting what is going to happen next in their day which perpetuates feelings of uncertainty. Creating a visual schedule can assist your child in planning the day so that they can see what comes next. Planning the schedule with your child and talking about each of the elements can also serve to create open communication channels.
Schedules can increase in complexity as your child gets older.
Schedules can also be tailored to meet your child’s needs. There is a temptation to ensure your child is involved in a number of extra-curricular activities however, you need to be careful of over-scheduling as this can lead to too many demands and not enough ‘down time.’
If you are relaxed, then this feeling will be passed onto your child. If you are too anxious to deal with back to school jitters, then perhaps a partner, family or even a good friend may make the occasion special and more relaxing. Sending a note to school in your child’s lunch box lets you child know you are thinking of them and encourages literacy skills right from the start.
Happy Back to School – I can’t wait to hear about it!