Back to School Anxiety after Lockdown

The end of lockdown is in sight and mums and dads everywhere are feeling anxious over how its all going to pan out. 

“What if my children have got behind in their school-work?

What if they are very anxious when they go back?

What if they DO catch Covid 19?”

I can hear all those “what if’s” already!

Most children will just bounce back – they will be looking forward to going to school and seeing all their friends and telling their teacher all the things they have been doing over the past months “Walking through the park every-day, going for bike rides and GUESS WHAT I SAW???”

However, some children will be slightly anxious. They will worry about how its going to be in the classroom. Will they be in the same bubble they were in before? Can they still take their packed lunch? Will they have the same teacher?

All those general worries, a bit like going back to school after the long summer break.  But- and this is a BIG BUT (No not like mine after lockdown!) …there will be a percentage of children from three years old right up to college age, who are severely anxious.

When I say “severely anxious” I mean full blown meltdowns and panic attacks, constantly asking “what if this and what if that?” the anxious child will probably not sleep the night before going back to school. She may not want to eat dinner the night before or breakfast on the morning of school. He may throw a tantrum because he doesn’t want to put his shoes on … could be anything that sets them off couldn’t it!

So how do we cope with a super anxious child?

Anticipating the challenges of going back to school and carefully structuring the first few weeks will go a long way to setting the scene for a successful return. Here are some do’s and don’ts:

  • DO get back into a routine, as soon as possible.
  • DO make sure your child has a good breakfast or at least SOMETHING to eat before he leaves for school. (bananas are great!)
  • DO make sure he gets enough sleep and that doesn’t just mean making sure he’s in bed at a decent time because he can be in bed at 8pm but on social media or similar until midnight!
  • DO make sure they are eating a good lunch, if not – why not?
  • DO make sure you restrict internet activities no matter what age.
  • DO encourage them to feel happy about going back to school – say things like “It will be great to see all your friends again and find out what they have been up to wont it?” Just by you saying that will bring a picture of their friends to their mind and it will hopefully make them feel a bit happier. Remember the brain is very powerful so whatever we put in it – has an effect!
  • DO warn them that friendships can change though – the one that was your best friend last term – may not be this term! Explain all that to them so that they are prepared for the change in friendships.
  • DO have a trial run. It is important for mums and dads with anxious children to have a trial run before they go back to school – let them put their uniform on – get their books ready in their bag – drive or walk them to school and chat about how great it’s going to be.
  • DO help your child manage his commitments. The first few weeks back at school and your child is committing to all sorts of social things and activities – then he or she may get a bit overwhelmed. Don’t let them over commit.
  • DO get some therapy for your child if you think the anxiety has gone on for too long

Now the DON’Ts

  • DON’T try to fix everything. Sometimes when a child comes home from school on the first day (or in fact ANY day) he may be struggling with a problem – he may not be expecting YOU to fix it so just say something like “I know you are struggling – just let me know if you need my help” and that sometimes is enough.
  • DON’T ask your child if he has made any new friends. This can be quite shaming for children who are struggling to fit in due to their anxiety. It’s better to say something like “tell me three things that you enjoyed today
  • DON’T be afraid of setbacks. Allow for ups and downs. Accept that she will go one step forward to two back – that’s life isn’t it!
  • DON’T ignore problems. If you can see that there is a problem with your child, then you have to act. For example, if the teacher see’s a problem at school she will probably wait until they see a real reason for acting. However, YOU need to be your child’s advocate and if you see him or her struggling, or you are worried about her in any way, it’s better to say something sooner rather than later.
  • DON’T hesitate in getting help for your child if you think the anxiety is getting out of hand.

Finally, if you think your child has a severe case of anxiety DO either contact the GP who will probably put you on the waiting list for CAMHS or get in touch with a therapist who specialises in children’s anxiety disorders.

If you contact me, I can certainly advise as to what I think would be the best move for you, no obligation.

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