13 tips to ease back-to-school anxiety

Returning to school for a new year can be difficult for kids. Emma Bangay speaks to three experts about how to ease the transition into Term One - and beyond - for schoolchildren of every age.

Is your child excited or anxious about a new year at school? Maybe they are indifferent or overly obsessing about what lies ahead?

According to the founder of Authentic Education, Ben Harvey, the most common anxieties children face stem from seven key concepts. “When we are going into something new or back to something we have done before a particular part of our mind that is responsible for our survival activates to ensure that the next experience in our life is safe," he explains. He suggests encouraging your child to check in with the following:

  • Do I have anything to fear this year in school?
  • Is there any doubt about my ability or to what is going to happen this year at school?
  • Is this year going to be dangerous in any way?
  • Is there anything I need to be suspicious about? 
  • Is this year going to be more complicated than last year?
  • Am I going to be bored this year?
  • What am I uncertain about this year?

“The answers to these questions are largely responsible for the anxieties we feel in life,” Ben explains, adding that it is wise for parents to sit down and ask their children these seven questions before the year begins and help them to voice what is going on for them inside. “This will, in turn, reduce their anxiety.”

1. Look Online

You wouldn't want to miss an important meeting, so you schedule ahead. The same should go for the important dates in your child's school calendar. It can be incredibly alienating if a child gets dates wrong and brings the incorrect books to school or wears the wrong uniform, so eliminate the possibility of this by adding all important dates to your calendar today! 

2. Be Imaginative

If kids are apprehensive about a new year get them to imagine in their mind reconnecting with all their friends, teachers they like and sports they play each night before they go to sleep, Ben encourages.

3. Get Acquainted

New school? "Visit the school grounds if possible beforehand and walk around with them while you have them tell you all the things they appreciate about school," Ben suggests. 

4. Reject the fantasy of perfection

“If you live within a fantasy world where everything is supposed to be happy, easy, peaceful, safe and agreeable, you are vulnerable to the major let down when your fantasy is broken by the reality of life” renowned entrepreneur and human behavior expert Dr. Demartini notes. “Help your child understand that life is always in balance and that every challenging situation serves a purpose in their development.” Chat about this before school starts, so they are not under the illusion all will run smoothly, every day of the year!

5. Talk It Through

Speak to your kids about the upcoming year, urges Michael Hawton, a highly qualified and experienced Psychologist, and author of Engaging Adolescents. “Ask them about what they are looking forward to, what subjects they think they’ll enjoy most and talk with them about other non-academic activities they might want to participate in – school sports teams, chess club, debating teams, student representative councils or other clubs or activities offered by your child’s school.”

6. Imagine Your Kid As Einstein

“Always look at your child as a genius,” suggests Ben. “Nancy Atwell - dubbed the world's greatest teacher - has a unique way of communicating with children in which she sees them only through the eyes of being a genius," he explains. "Too often we speak to people younger than us like they are less intelligent which in turn affects the way our communication is received. So as the saying goes, “Talk to people the way you would like to be spoken to.” Continue this throughout the year to maintain confidence levels when needed. 

7. Be A Positive Force

Parents views on education often influence the children’s Michael points out. He encourages parents to talk with their children about the importance of education and take an interest in their children’s learning so that children are more likely to have a positive attitude towards school.

8. Keep Calm And Carry On

For parents of teens, patience is a virtue for the next 365 days. “Teens are often pushing the boundaries and challenging their parents’ values,” Michael points out. “Parents need to stay calm and not react to their teenagers’ challenging behavior and recognize that many of the behaviors teens try out are not going to reflect their lasting values.” However, parents still need to maintain their expectations and values and calmly insist that some behavior is not negotiable, he insists. 

9. Encourage, Don’t Discourage

“Praise persistence and ‘having a go,' rather than just the results,” says Michael. “Pay attention to your child and offer words of acknowledgment when you see them applying themselves. Encourage the behavior you want to see.”

10. Set Fun Goals

“Set some fun goals with them that they would like to achieve for the year that is not necessarily academically focused,” Ben suggests. 

11. Don't Waste Weekends

“Make it a goal to set aside time each week to do something with each of your teenagers that allow you to relax and enjoy each other’s company,” Michael says. Don't talk about school, simply delve into the downtime together. By showing your children you can be with them, not just always 'at' them, they will find comfort the communication they have with you outside of school. "On the weekends, avoid the interruptions of smartphones and be present to your children," Michael encourages. "Use time spent driving your kid's places as opportunities to chat about everyday experiences,” he says adding that sometimes biting your tongue is the trick. “Try listening rather than giving advice or tuning out."

12. Make An Empower List

Still struggling? Ask kids to list 10 things they enjoyed about last year, and 10 things they are looking forward to this year, Ben suggests. “The best way for parents to empower their children is to find out what they love and then link attending school to it,” says Ben. “For example, let us just say your child loves skateboarding. You simply ask them the following question: ‘How will doing well in school allow you to skateboard even more?'"  Make sure they answer this question at least 20 times, he continues. “When wanting to empower anyone all we need to do is find out what they truly value and then show them exactly how they can have more of that by going to school. This is a system used over in Finland that achieves an incredible level of engagement and success in the schooling system.”

13. Beat Bullying

According to Dr. Demartini, bullies serve a crucial purpose – they can highlight where your child is disempowered. "If you've got a bully in your life and he's pushing you around, it's partly because you're not guiding or governing your life,” he says. “You're not empowered in that area.” Dr. Demartini believes that in regards to school children, once they have empowered that area, the bully disappears. “If you don't empower yourself, the bully just keeps coming in to toughen you up, to make you stronger, so you empower that area. That bully is your hero because he is helping you empower yourself."

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