Back-to-school anxiety is normal and understandable. Many children may feel anxious about going back to school after a long summer break, others may feel nervous about starting school for the first time or have some reservations about moving to a new school.
However, this year we have an additional ingredient to take into consideration Coronavirus has prevented our children from attending school or even mingling with their school friends for many months.
For the past few months they have been attending the school of Mum and Dad , this was probably a difficult transition for both your child and you, but now it has been decided children can return to school.
However it isn’t school as they know it, a number of new rules are in place such as social distancing, the wearing of masks and the school having a whole new vibe to it.
Coronavirus is having a significant impact on children and adults across the nation. Our entire lives have been disrupted. Many of the things that contributed to your child’s educational and social development have been interrupted, put that together with the new environment we are living in it’s not surprising that your child may feel more stressed and anxious than usual about returning to school.
Of course, for some children they may be excited about getting back to school and being with their friends, maybe it is yourself as a parent who is stressed and anxious about their return to school.
If you are concerned that your child is anxious about returning to school then this should not be ignored.
What are the signs that your child may be anxious
When children are anxious, they may not know how to put their feelings into words.
So, it is important that parents know how to recognize the signs of anxiety.
these are some common indicators that a child might be anxious.
Have you noticed changes in their eating and sleeping habits as the return to school approaches?
Has your child had bouts of unexplained crying?
Maybe they have been Complaining of stomach aches, especially in the mornings before school
Have you noticed them Struggling to concentrate on things?
Does your child appear more clingy than normal?
Have you noticed them Getting upset or angry more quickly?
Has your child been expressing negative thoughts or worries?
Do they appear restless and fidgety a lot of the time?
If you notice any of these behaviours, especially if they are new and not how your child usually behaves then it could be, they are feeling anxious.
If you are concerned that your child is anxious about the return to school, then here are 5 ways you could try to help your child manage their anxiety.
1. Check Your Own Behaviour
The start of the school year can be a nervous time for you as much as your child.
Have you noticed any of the above behaviours in yourself or are you aware of your own anxiety about your child returning to school?
It is important to try and keep your own anxiety levels under control. The more you can stay calm and manage your own stress, you will prevent yourself from transferring your own anxieties to your child.
Children look to their parents for information about how to interpret situations; if you, as a parent, seem anxious and fearful about the current situation or about your child returning to school than your child will see the situation as a fearful one.
Children take cues from their parents, so the more confidence and comfort you can model, the more your child will understand there is no reason to be afraid.
There is evidence that children of anxious parents are more likely to exhibit anxiety themselves, a probable combination of genetic risk factors and learned behaviours.
So try your best to keep your own stresses and anxieties away from your children, but do find someone that you can talk to about how you are feeling, this will enable you to be able to support your child in the best way you can.
2. Ask How Your Child is Feeling
·Even if your child does not seem too worried, it is still important to ask how they feel about returning to school, especially in this current environment.
If they are visibly worried, ask them what they feel anxious about. It is easier for you to support them if they have a particular concern.
Reassure them it is OK to have these worries and praise them for sharing them with you.
Do not ask questions that suggest you expect kids to be anxious
i.e. "Are you worried about having to wear a mask to school?" or
"Are you worried you might have fallen behind in your schoolwork through this period?"
But check in with them in a more casual way, maybe a quick conversation in the car on the way to school it doesn’t have to be a serious discussion
"Do you know when you need to wear your mask at school? Are you Ok with that?" "Do you think you have everything you need for all your classes? Is there anything we have missed?"
Children are often more ready to talk when they do not feel pressurised to talk about how they feel.
If you are concerned, they are not opening up to you then you could try to start the conversation with them
"You seem a little worried about returning to school is there anything I can help with?"
If your child doesn’t know or doesn’t want to talk about it, do not push it.
Now that you have opened the door, your child may come back to talk about it at another point.
If they do open up do not judge them but validate what they are saying and normalise their feelings
"Wearing a mask can be quite uncomfortable I understand why you may be worried about it, I suspect quite a few of your friends are feeling the same".
"It's been a difficult year for everyone, your teachers will be aware of this and will be doing all they can to help you"
3. Avoid Fixing Things and Focus on the Positives
Children often seek reassurance that bad things will not happen in order to reduce their worry.
Do not assure them with “Don’t worry!” or “Everything will be fine!” Instead, encourage your child to think of ways to solve his or her problem.
For example, “If (the worst) happens, what could you do?” or “Let’s think of some ways you could handle that situation.”
This gives you the opportunity to coach your child on how to cope with both real and imagined scary situations. You will also be giving your child the tools he or she needs to cope with an unexpected situation that might arise.
I know it can be tempting to fix things, you want to help them feel better, but If you always give them the solutions and fix things for them they will be unable to learn how to do these things for themselves
Try not to reward your child’s protests, crying, or tantrums by allowing him or her to avoid going to school.
Instead encourage your child to re-direct attention away from the worries and remind your child about what makes school great.
Ask your child, “What are three things that you are most excited about on your first day of school?”
Most kids can think of something good, Keep them focused on the positives
4. Establish a Regular ‘Family Feedback’ Time
This will be a time that makes it normal for everyone to air and share worries from their day, as well as the fun things that went on.
A good time for this is over dinner and you could get things rolling by asking questions like,
‘What was the silliest moment of your day?"
"What was the most interesting fact you learnt today?"
"Did anything happen at school today that you weren’t expecting?"
Introduce questions which you feel may help get to the root of what is going on but without being obvious.
You could start the conversation with something that has changed for you recently, to weave into talking to your child about something that has changed for them. For example,
"When I first went back to work after lockdown, I found I was quite nervous because I hadn’t been to the office in so long, how did it feel for you today at school?"
You may want to introduce some Worry Time (see my blog 3 tips for managing worry. https://www.seeclearcounselling.co.uk/post/3-tips-for-managing-worry-worry-wellbeing)
to let your child know it is OK to worry about things, but not all the time.
Maybe your child can make and decorate a family worry box where you all write down your worries and post them in the box and once a week you sit down together and help each other with the worries you had that week.
You will often find that when the time comes your child is no longer worrying about that particular problem and realises that worries don’t stay around forever and those worries that are still there can be discussed amongst you all rather than them thinking they have to cope with them on their own.
5. Teach Your Child Some Relaxation Techniques
Despite everything your child may still have bouts of anxiety through the day.
You will not always be around to support them so they need to learn ways that they can support themselves when it happens.
Teach your child some simple breathing exercises they can do to relax them if they start to feel anxious at school. Say to them:
“Take a long, slow breath in through your nose, hold your breath for 1,2,3… breathe out slowly through your mouth. Do this three times.”
Some simple grounding exercises can help your child turn their thoughts outwards and away from their anxious feelings.
For example, tell them to look around and name in their head, not aloud, the following:
5 things they can see
4 things they can hear
3 things they can touch
2 things they can smell
And if they can carry around a small packet of sweets, they can pop a mint in their mouth to focus on 1 thing they can taste.
Or they could try looking around the room and starting with A find an object beginning with that letter than B, C, D etc until they start to feel a little calmer.
These exercises help to bring them back into the room and out of their head.
When should you seek help?
If your child's anxiety is severe, persists, and interferes with their everyday life, it is a good idea to get some help.
A visit to a GP is a good place to start. If your child's anxiety is affecting their school life, it is a good idea to talk to their school as well.
Parents and carers can get help and advice about children's mental health from Young Minds' free parent helpline on 0808 802 5544, from Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 4pm.
Although I do not work with children myself the tips, we have mentioned above could also help you as an adult to cope with your own anxiety.
I specialise in working with anxiety and help adults find ways to manage their anxiety, if you feel your anxiety may be influencing your child’s outlook on life then it may be a good idea for you to seek your own help in reducing your anxiety, which can improve things for both yourself and your child.
Laura Knight is a qualified and experienced Counsellor and a registered member of BACP (The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy)
She is an approved Anxiety UK Therapist and has her own private practice SeeClear Counselling, in Poole Dorset.
She can offer face to face, telephone and video counselling sessions.
Laura also spent some time working with Dorset Mind delivering education to local employers on how to identify and manage stress at work reducing the impact that work stress can have on peoples every day lives.
Laura found that many of her clients would present with Anxiety and because of this enhanced her training to include CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) as there is evidence to suggest that CBT is effective in the treatment of anxiety and depression.
Laura now focuses on working with adults who struggle with Anxiety within her private practice, working with them to reduce the scary physical and emotional symptoms they experience and help them change their negative thinking patterns so they can lead a calmer life.
For more information about Laura please visit her website https://www.seeclearcounselling.co.uk
Or visit her Facebook page https://facebook.com/seeclearcounselling
e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org Tel 07975733029