Understanding back to school anxiety
Going back to school after any holiday: summer, Easter, half term etc is bad enough for any child but going back to school after having to stay at home, under lock down for several weeks is going to be pretty tough, even for the toughest of our children.
One mum phoned me yesterday and said:
“I think my seven year old will be going back to school soon and I will need him to have some help for his anxiety – can I book him in now as I know you are going to be inundated with worried mums like me booking their children in!”
Naturally, I told her I would be more than happy to help her child but wasn’t she being just a little… presumptuous? Perhaps not. A mum knows her child more than anyone of course and if she knows virtually 100% that her son is already getting anxious about going back to school, then, now is pretty good time for me to start helping him.
Impact on Parents
Parents feel the pain too of course, as there is nothing worse than leaving your child at school, crying his little heart out! Children who normally have a little trouble leaving mum or dad at the school gate will see their anxiety peak during times of stress or transition.
Remember, this is a “ first” for all of us, mums, dads, kids and teachers alike – the first day back at school, whether it be nursery, pre – school, primary or secondary, or even college… after being in mandatory lock down at home for several weeks, being home schooled and wearing masks when out for the walk.
Impact on Children
For most children, the going back to school worries will fade and the anxious behaviours will slowly go away, but for some, their anxiety is going to be worse and parents are going to be have to be pretty strong and patient to be able to cope. Here’s a few tips:
Get in the right mindset
Ensure that YOU are calm and stress free – if not – you will just pass this on to your child, no matter what age they are.
Listen to your child
When your little one says she is worried about going back to school, do listen carefully to what she has to say. Rather than simply dismissing her fears and worries, listen and acknowledge your child’s feelings, letting her know you understand how she feels but that very soon that first day will soon be over and she will wonder why she ever worried in the first place. Don’t ask questions like “ Are you worried about going back to school?” as that will only prompt them to have an anxiety attack!
Do a practice run!
If you think that your child is going to be a nervous wreck on the first day of school, go to the school perhaps a couple of times PRIOR to that first day, and get him or her feeling comfortable again about just being there. Even just driving to the school and stopping at the normal drop off point can help your child get familiar with that morning routine again. Any opportunity whatsoever, to go to the school, is going to help her do what we call “coping ahead”.!!
Communicate with teachers
Talk to the teacher or let someone know if your child is going to need some extra support to make a good successful, anxiety free transition. Just a little “Hello Johnny, it’s lovely to see you again after all this time, we’ve really missed you,“ will make all the difference.
Think about the handover
If you think your child might be really reluctant to separate from you or daddy on that first morning, try and arrange for a teacher, or a TA to meet you at the door, or maybe there is a special school friend that will go in with him/her?
Look out for signs of anxiety
Headaches and tummy aches- Anxiety about school sometimes takes the form of a tummy ache or headache or even feeling sick, be prepared for this as after a very long break from school it is more than likely to occur.
Think about how it might impact your child specifically
Children with various disorders may struggle a little more than normal, for example: Children with OCD, or a child who has been previously bullied. Perhaps a child with an undiagnosed learning disorder might not want to go back to school because he is embarrassed and thinks he is not as clever as the other children. Finally, a child with separation anxiety may fear something is going to happen to mum or dad whilst they are at school.
Everyone resists going to school at some stage during their school years, but school refusal can become a pattern of avoiding school that causes real problems for the child. If a child’s resistance to school goes on over a long period of time, this is the time to start worrying that something a little more serious is going on. Unfortunately, the longer the child stays away from school, psychologically the harder it is for him to go back. Being absent reinforces the anxiety that caused the problem in the first place and so it becomes a vicious circle.
So what do we do if our child needs help before going back to school?
If your child struggles with anxiety, why not book him in for my three session “Back to School Anxiety Programme”?
This will help avoid that awful struggle on the first day back and will certainly help keep YOUR stress levels down too!
The programme is just three sessions (50 minutes each over zoom) and the child will learn the following:
- How to recognise his or her anxiety
- How to do a few coping techniques
- How to ask for help if he needs it.
- How to feel confident even when he isn’t!
- How to manage his or her emotions
Book now to reserve your place – I will be delighted to help your child make a smooth transition back to school.
Elaine Hodgins, Children’s Behavioural Specialist