While some children will be excited to go back to school, others will be scared and anxious. It’s only natural that your child might feel more worried than usual about heading back to the classroom, particularly after such a dramatic change in the world.
Kids who have become used to the altered pace of learning and thrived on less external pressure might find it especially challenging to adapt to a school environment that’s so different from what they know.
Here, we’ll be looking at some top tips for helping your child cope with back to school anxiety.
1. Validate your child’s emotions and focus on the positives
Children are likely to find safety measures, such as social distancing and mask wearing, strange at first. One thing that can help, Alexandra Gregory, Educational Psychologist, says, is acknowledging and normalising their worries and then helping them to identify the things they are looking forward to before returning to school. “It’s important to empathise with your child and validate their worries and fears, before they can then be open to focusing on the positives.
“But focusing on the positives can help to get young people to identify their strengths, and the positives of going back to school, like seeing their friends or favourite teachers.”
2. Encourage your child to express their emotions about going back to school
According to Dr Gregory, some children may find it hard to articulate their feelings through words. But if your child is comfortable expressing their thoughts and feelings with a pen or paintbrush, journalling can be a “useful tool for helping them process their emotions”.
There are various prompts you can use to help your child explore their feelings. Check out this guide put together by the Mental Health Foundation, the resources on the Family Links website, or the I Can Journal, designed for children with additional needs.
3. Offer your child reassurance
It’s natural that your child might be worried about catching coronavirus. Talk to them about what they can do to minimise risk, and reassure them that school will have protective measures in place. Dr Gregory recommends showing your child visuals of what school will look like could help alleviate anxiety.
“The unknown can be scary for children, particularly if they struggle with a change to routine. For some, it might help them to see a photo or drawing of what their classroom will look like. Don’t be afraid to ask your child’s school for this information, and let them know in advance that your child is feeling anxious about coming back so they can put personalised support in place accordingly.”
4. Go through some back to school coping strategies
Every child has their own coping strategies when the feel stressed. But giving them some tools to use when they feel overwhelmed can help. These could include speaking to the teacher to have some quiet time, breathing techniques, having a favourite toy to hand or noise-cancelling headphones. Work out the strategies that will help your child with the transition back to school and put these into place before the first bell of term rings.
5. Try not to reinforce fears
Many of us will be worried about the risk of catching coronavirus in school – whether we have a child with health needs or not. Children are very intuitive and will often look to their parents to determine how to respond to a situation. As difficult as it is, one of the key steps in helping your child overcome their fears of heading back to school is making sure you manage your own anxieties too. Speaking slowly, not panicking, and managing your facial expressions can all help your child feel more relaxed.
There’s no doubt that going back to school will be a time of stress and anxiety for many children. But if you feel your child’s anxiety is deeper rooted, it’s always worth speaking to your GP or paediatrician, and checking in with a charity, such as Young Minds.
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