As a parent, especially one who works from home, there have been moments spent looking forward to my three daughters returning to school this fall. I’ve already been interrupted twice writing the first sentence of this blog!
Like many of you, my family is struggling with a plethora of emotions. Two of my three girls are headed off to new schools – the youngest to middle school and the oldest to postsecondary while living at home. All three are in challenging and exciting stages and I can imagine many of you have kids who are also experiencing nostalgia that summer is drawing to a close and butterflies about getting back into a routine and seeing old friends.
Of course, anxious feelings are normal and expected during times of transition or change, such as starting kindergarten, returning to school or starting at a new school, including middle or high school. Anxiety isn’t limited to children. Lots of teens experience anxiety too, even if they didn’t struggle with it when they were younger.
Over the years, I’ve helped many families begin a new chapter in their lives with a new home. With fresh starts in mind, I’d found some helpful tips from Anxiety BC to help you and your family in this exciting transition.
A COUPLE OF DAYS BEFORE SCHOOL
• Take a trial run. Walk, drive or take the bus to school several times. For young children taking the school bus, describe and draw out the bus route, including how long it takes to get to school.
• For new students, visit the school so your child knows where classrooms, the playground, library, gymnasium and principal’s office are located. If possible, find out if any friends, relatives or neighbours will be in their class, as knowing someone or creating a buddy system can smooth the transition.
• For young kids nervous about separating, suggest taking a special object to school that reminds him of home.
• Get back into the swim of things by starting your child or teen on a school-day routine – waking up, eating and going to bed at regular times.
FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL
• Have your child go to school with a friend or neighbour for the first couple of days.
• If your child is shy and didn’t already met his teacher on your visit to the school, consider going into the classroom to introduce him to the teacher. Let their teacher know about any special interests or challenges he has and if he’s experiencing separation anxiety.
• Praise and reward your child or teen for brave behaviour. Depending on their age, that could include a fun dinner, a night off from doing dishes or earned minutes of screen time or a movie ticket.
OTHER TIPS FOR BACK TO SCHOOL
Keep a positive focus. Talk to your child or teen about her expectations, hopes and fears for the upcoming school year. Let her know other kids are experiencing the same feelings and that she’s sure to have a great year. Talk positively about school as a place where she’ll learn new things and make friends.
Problem solve. Anxious youth are often poor problem solvers and doubt their ability to cope. Address their fears by creating an active plan with concrete solutions. For example: “If (the worst) happens, what could you do?” or “Let’s think of some ways you could handle that situation.”
Encourage school involvement. Kids are more likely to be engaged academically if they feel connected through a school activity, club or sport. You don’t want your teens to become over-scheduled but encourage participation in one or two activities of special interest.
Watch for excessive worries. It’s normal to be anxious in any new situation but some kids develop real physical symptoms – such as headaches or stomachaches – associated with the start of school. If you’re concerned your child’s worries go beyond typical back-to-school jitters, speak with their doctor, teacher or school counsellor.
Wondering what to do if your child or teen doesn’t want to go to school? The experts at Anxiety B.C. say it’s crucial to make him/her attend school. Avoiding school will only increase and reinforce their fears over the long-term, they tell us, making it increasingly more difficult to attend.
Mind Your Mood is an easy-to-use app that allows youth and young adults to track their moods securely on their phone. It’s designed to empower them to keep a record that helps them understand their ups and downs and see the larger picture of their emotional health. Find it here: https://mindyourmind.ca/interactives
Here are some other resources you and your family might find helpful:
I wish you and your family all the best in the upcoming school year!