How to handle back-to-school anxiety

The beginning of the school year can be a challenging time for kids and their parents. Here’s how you can ease back into the school routine.

While the new school year can be exciting for most kids, for others it can be an anxious time.

Dr Kimberly Obrien, Principal Child Psychologist at The Quirky Kid Clinic, says a parent’s attitude towards their child starting a new school or returning to school can have a big impact on the way a child approaches the situation.

Here are her suggestions on how parents can guide their children through managing anxious thoughts, preparing for the new school year and encourage their child to make new friends.

Guiding a child through anxious feelings

As children start to think about returning to school it’s important to encourage positive behaviour.

Dr Obrien suggest parents do this by offering positive answers when their child poses a negative statement.

For example, if your child says “This is going to be the worst day ever” you can follow it up with “today is going to be a great day” or, if your child says “I’m not you to make any friends” encourage them by saying “you’ve always made friends, why wouldn’t you now?”

“Positive self-talk can give a child more of a positive feeling about situations and make them feel less anxious,” she says.

If your child is very anxious about starting school, Dr Obrien suggests following these three steps.

  • Take it slow and don’t push a child when they are anxious.
  • Encourage them to take deep breaths, centre themselves and take control of their breathing.
  • Lastly, help them to accept that the first day may be challenging in parts, but it won’t last long and that it will be ok.

Helping your child make new friends

Making new friendships can be a challenging life skill at any age and for some children it can cause anxious feelings about returning to school or starting at a new school. As a parent, you can help your child to learn the micro skills they need to feel more comfortable making friends.

“Send your child up to place the order at a café or get them to pay the bill, those small interactions with other people will subconsciously help them learn,” Dr Obrien says.

Its’ also important to encourage children to interact with peers their own age.

“Encourage your child or teen to walk past a group of same age peers, it could be at the shopping centre or the library, or just point them out to your child,” Dr Obrien suggests.

“Then check in with your child by asking did you see any kids in that group that look friendly?”

“Observing from a distance and observing open and closed body language will help your child understand how to approach other kids.”

Preparing to start primary school

Sending a child off to school for the first time can be as difficult for a parent as it is for their child.

Dr Obrien suggests preparing as early as possible to make the transition a smooth one. You can do this simply by talking to your child about starting school and getting their books, stationary and bags prepared and organised.

For younger children, it’s important to familiarise them with their new surroundings before they start.

“I always encourage kids and their parents to take a walk by the school and familiarise themselves with starting school or returning to school,” Dr Obrien says.

“Ask your child questions like, ‘what do you think will be your favourite thing about school?’ or ask them about their new teacher. It’s important to encourage your child and help them to get excited about starting school.”

Preparing to start high school

While older children may not need the same familiarisation as younger children, it’s still important to help them to prepare.

Run through a school day morning routine or do a practice run of the train or bus route.

Having a child start high school can make parents just as anxious as their child, which children wil pick up on. Dr Obrien suggests that parents get involved where they can.

“Put yourself out there as a parent and kids will start to get excited about the new experience. Reach out to other parents and take the extra time to make connections with the ladies in the front office. Everyone’s busy so if you can’t, just taking an interest in the school newsletter will help.”

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