It’s that time of the year again. All the shops have signs saying ‘Back to School’ and nothing is sadder for a child than knowing their summer holiday is nearly over.
However, for some children, the thought of returning to school can be terrifying, especially when the end of the summer holidays comes with major changes such as transferring to a new school.
So, what can you do to help your child deal with the worry of going back to school?
Talk to Your Child
A good place to start is to talk to your child about their worries regarding school.
Is it the other children and making new friends? Are they worried they won’t fit in, or that they will be judged? Are they scared they are out their depth, not smart enough, or by the thought of having new teachers? Is the change in environment from a small school to a big school making them anxious? If your child is transferring to a different school, this can be a big deal for them and a lot of time, your child’s concerns can be a combination of the factors mentioned above.
It’s easy to just dismiss your children’s worries although the mere fact it is a concern for them is reason enough to listen and actively try to help them through what they are dealing with. By really listening and talking to your child about their worries, you’ll find that your child will become more open about how they’re feeling and their school worries will often cease to exist.
Help Your Child Find Other Meanings
When you have listened to your child and understood their concerns, you can help them change the meaning they have given to their fears.
For example, they may be worried that the school is too big and they will get lost. It could be useful to remind them that all the new children will have the same issue and that finding their way around can be fun too. Maybe ask them to draw you a map to show you where their classes are once they have had a few days to find their way around.
Then, when your child has started school, discussing what they are focusing on can help them reduce their fears and settle in more quickly. Frequently asking them about their day and all the things they liked and enjoyed, will encourage your child to think about the day more positively. The more positive references your child has about their current days, the happier they will start to feel when thinking about their next days. If they start to talk about the negatives from their day, keep listening and showing them that they have been heard.
Whatever your child’s fear is, there will always be a silver lining somewhere. Ensure to talk it through with them until you find a solution.
Make the Preparation Fun
Trying on uniforms and buying pens isn’t fun for most kids but it’s a chore they cannot avoid. The easiest way is to make it enjoyable, is to mix in school shopping with fun activities like a park visit or ice cream after. Also, think about how can you involve your children in this process. Ask them questions about what they like and what they don’t like about the things you are buying and why? Let them feel they’re involved in the whole process and are not just being dictated to.
What Fears Might You Be Adding to Your Child?
Finally, have a quick check in to see if you are adding any additional concerns for your child.
Children, especially at a young age, pick up a lot of nonverbal behaviour from their parents. Be mindful of your school ‘horror’ stories, as what is now funny to you in retrospect, could become a major concern for them. Also, be aware of well-meaning friends and relatives who also have their own humorous stories, as no one wants to be told that ‘first years always get their heads flushed down the toilet….!’ To them it’s only a joke whereas to your child, it’s a whole different ball game.
Identify any fears you might have that could impact your children, and look at ways to work through them. A good place to start could be to use some of the exercises and tools I have listed previously or by speaking to a friend or to a qualified professional if you feel you need a bit more support.
Try the tips above with your child and hopefully going back to school can be worry-free for everyone.
Christopher Paul Jones,
Anxiety and Phobia Expert,