As everyone is wrapping up their summer vacation, reality is setting in for kids that a new school year is quickly approaching. For some, it’s a time of excitement and enthusiasm because they will be seeing old friends, making new ones and taking on new challenges. But for many, it means stomach aches, tears, anxiety and even depression. The intensity and side effects from this anxiety can be different degrees for different students. The way we prepare and respond to the anxiety can make a world of difference for the rest of the school year.
Start a routine early!
This may be one of the most important steps to reducing back to school stress, especially if your child has had a schedule-free summer. Waiting until the weekend before school starts to begin a new sleeping routine will most likely add more attention to your child’s fear about a new school year. Try to start school year sleep habits a few weeks before school starts. This should include a scheduled time to go to bed and wake up. Begin mornings with the same routine your child will be experiencing when starting back to school such as showering, breakfast, and brushing their teeth. If possible, have out-of-home playdates with some of your child’s friends, based on the same morning schedule that will coincide with their morning routines during the school year. Regardless of when you begin this routine, avoid telling your child the reason for going to bed early is to be ready and rested for school. It is senseless to believe your child will get a better night’s sleep by reminding them they will be facing their fears when they awake the next morning.
Have positive conversations about things that make school great.
Your child may not feel there is anything positive about school. Discuss your positive experiences from school. It may be your favorite teacher, friend, field trip or any happy memories of school when you were their age. Hopefully this will help your child come to the self-realization that there are some positive aspects about going back.
Love their school and their teacher. This may not always be easy. However, the first step in your child loving school and his teacher is knowing that his school and teachers have the trust and approval of the person he or she respects and cares about the most. Essentially, it’s saying “Any friend of yours is a friend of mine!”
No last minute surprises!
One of the biggest things the parent can do that no one else can, is eliminate some of the unknown. Kids can get very concerned with “what ifs”. When your child leaves to go to school, he or she must know how they are getting home and with whom! Staying in a routine for how your child will get home everyday is crucial. This can be difficult with parents working or sharing custody of their children. One way to remedy this is to allow your child to keep a calendar. Some schools provide their students with a school planner. Color coding the calendar in the planner with highlighters so children will know how they are getting home and where they will be staying empowers the child and helps eliminate uncertainty.
Make a test run.
Plan a time to meet their teacher. It may be at the school open house but be sure your child knows where to find their classroom and that they know their teacher. Let their teacher know if there are anything specific issues they should know about your child. Teachers are often busy at open house. Be patient or schedule a meeting to discuss any concerns you may have. If there are significant concerns that are unique to your child, choose a person at school you feel comfortable talking to who will be an advocate for your child. You may choose to speak with the school Principal, Assistant principal, Counselor, resource officer.
Help them look forward to going!
Do the little things that will make your child look forward to going to school. Send a small gift to the teacher. He or she will love seeing the pleasure on their teacher’s face when they give them an apple, some candy or even a handwritten card. Do the same for your child. Surprise them with something special in their lunchbox with a friendly note of how proud you are of them. Kids also love to impress their friends. Find out when you can send your child’s favorite snack to school that can be shared with the rest of the class.
Social-Emotional wellness activities can be effective in helping children cope with stress and anxiety. This may include yoga, art, spending time with pets and exercising. Many youth organizations such as 4-H offer these types of activities and education. Children may learn to self-regulate their emotions by participating and having a lifestyle rich in the activities. Contact your local 4-H office to find out opportunities for your child to be involved in your community.
If you would like more information about back-to-school anxiety, please contact your local extension office.