Dealing with Back-to-School Jitters
As summer comes to an end and kids prepare to head to the classroom, some may suffer from back to school anxiety. It can be experienced by first-timers starting kindergarten right up to older kids. This time of transition can be stressful for the entire family. Leading up to the first day of school, your child may cling, cry, throw temper tantrums, complain of headaches or stomach pains, withdraw, and become sullen or ill-tempered.
Anxious children and teens can worry about many different school-related issues, such as teachers, friends, fitting in, shyness, schedules and/or being away from parents. This is very common.
Validate the child’s worry by acknowledging that, like any new activity, starting school may be difficult at first but soon becomes easy and fun.
A few tips to deal with back to school jitters…
A few weeks before school:
● Start your child on a school-day routine – waking up, eating, and going to bed at regular times.
● Ask your child to help plan school lunches for the first week.
● Create a list of school supplies together and plan a fun shopping trip.
● Arrange play dates with one or more familiar peers before school starts.
A couple days before school:
● Visit the school several times – walking, driving, or taking the bus. For young children taking the school bus, describe and draw out the bus route, including where the bus goes and how long it takes to get to school. Discuss bus safety.
● For new students, take a tour of the school. Show your child the classrooms, the cafeteria, and the school facilities. If possible, meet your child’s teacher with your child.
● Ask your child to choose outfits for the first week of school. Let your child wear his or her favourite outfit on the first day.
● Together with your child, pack up the schoolbag the night before.
● For younger children who are nervous about separating from parents, suggest taking a special object to school that reminds him or her of home. A reassuring note in a child’s lunch can also help ease separation anxiety.
The first day of school:
● Ease any tension and get your child excited about the first day of school with a fun photo. Get ideas here.
● Have your child go to school with a friend for the first couple of days or consider taking your child to school for the first few days.
● Tell the teacher that your child is having some separation anxiety – most teachers are experts in this area, and have years of experience dealing with this type of situation.
It's important to praise and reward your child for their brave behaviour. Focus on the positive aspects of school and encourage your child to re-direct attention away from the worries. Pay attention to your own behaviour. Children often take cues from their parents. And keep an eye open! Anxiety symptoms that persist beyond the first few weeks of school may require consultation with an expert.