Eight Ways to Manage Back To School Anxiety

teenage girl experiencing school anxiety

Transitioning back into the school routine after relaxing summer holidays or a prolonged absence can be stressful and difficult for both children and parents.

After the holidays it can be hard to accept that lazy mornings, fluid bedtimes and carefree days must come to an end and routines must prevail once more. And while mild anxiety symptoms for children returning to school can be expected, they become a cause for concern if they linger beyond the first few weeks or if they occur in children who are already prone to anxiety.

Let’s explore the probable causes of back to school anxiety in children, the potential signs to look out for and how to discuss them with your child, and eight ways to help children feel better about returning to school.

What causes back to school anxiety?

There are a range of potential stresses that children might experience when returning to school after the holidays or a long absence. These include:

  • Separation anxiety from parents, carers or family members
  • Perceived pressure to meet academic expectations
  • Worries about peers and friendship groups
  • Fears about social isolation and not fitting in
  • Discomfort in crowded/noisy/unfamiliar situations
  • Concerns about new teachers and class groups

Signs that your child might be experiencing back to school anxiety

There are many different ways that children show anxiety about returning to school. Any behavioural changes prior to a new school term or during the first week or two back could indicate that your child is experiencing some negative emotions. The signs to watch out for include:

  • Seeking repeated reassurance about what to expect and asking ‘what if’ questions
  • Reluctance to engage in back-to-school preparations such as buying new shoes
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches or stomach aches
  • Disturbed sleep or trouble falling asleep
  • Behavioural issues such as tantrums or refusal to partake in normal family activities
  • School avoidance (once school returns)

How to talk to your child experiencing anxiety about returning to school

It can be very concerning for parents when a child is experiencing back to school anxiety. While you may be both worried and frustrated, it is important to communicate in a calm and understanding manner.

You may find family therapy helpful, where experts can support both you and your child with ways to demonstrate the acceptance, understanding and empathy needed to facilitate open and effective communication with your child.

Tips include asking open questions and using non-judgmental language to encourage your child to share their feelings, such as, “Going back to school after a nice long holiday can be hard. Is there anything that worries you?”

If your child responds ensure you acknowledge their concerns using positive, affirming language and ask if they would like to explore some potential solutions together.

How parents can help children with back to school anxiety

Just as we begin to get things in order before returning to work, preparation is the key to helping your child make that transition from holiday mode to school mode with minimal stress.

If your child is showing signs of anxiety about returning to school, try:

  1. Having relaxed and open conversations to identify their concerns, and taking small steps towards addressing them. For example, they may worry about not finding their classroom so you could download a map of the school or take a walk around the school in the days before school goes back.
  2. Acknowledging your child’s emotions, providing validation and showing them that you understand their concerns. For example, “It is difficult to go back to school after such a long break. I know, I have the same concerns about returning to work.” Knowing that their anxiety is understood and warranted may help your child to feel more positive.
  3. Having a chat about the specific issues that are causing them to feel anxious and organising a back-to-school practice run. For example, prior to school resuming take the bus or walk to school together so they feel confident about doing it alone.
  4. Demonstrating the behaviours you’d like to see in them by showing good return-to-work planning and preparation.
  5. Re-introducing school term bedtime and mealtime routines from a week before school goes back.
  6. Organising play dates with school friends before school starts so they can re-establish connections with peers.
  7. During the first few weekends after school returns, engage in family activities to ease the transition from holiday time to school term time.
  8. For children with severe back to school anxiety, seek assistance from school counsellors, teachers or family therapists to formulate strategies that will support and help you and your child with the transition.

As a parent, having the skills to handle back to school anxiety effectively can make a big difference to your relationship and your child’s ability to manage their emotions. See how Relational Minds family therapists can help you and your child with conversations and strategies that will reduce the anxiety and create a smoother transition for kids returning to school.

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