Many children have anxiety as they anticipate the upcoming school year. Here are some tips to help support your child:
- When you talk with your child, remember that your most important job is to listen. What kids need most is your presence (rather than solutions) for their feelings. It can be helpful to remember that it is not the difficult event itself, but whether a child feels alone in their feelings that determine their ability to cope over time.
- It’s impossible to regulate a feeling that isn’t acknowledged. Help your child regulate difficult moments by discussing in advance any feelings that may come up for them. This way kids feel more mentally prepared when worry does spring up, as they aren’t as surprised and swept away by it. You might say something like, “part of you might feel really excited to see your friends again, and another part of you might feel nervous about what school will be like this year. There is no one right way to feel about going back to school, and it’s so interesting that we can have different feelings all at the same time. All feelings are okay to have”.
- If your child is anxious but they can identify that even a small part of them is looking forward to something school-related, highlight that (“part of you is nervous, but this other part is excited about….”). This helps them see that anxiety is part of, but not all of their experience.
- Uncertainty will escalate anxiety in your child. Accordingly, try to find out as many details as you can prior to the first day of school (e.g., what door they will be going in, what classroom, who their teacher will be etc.). Then talk to your child about what will be the same and what will be different this year. As well, re-familiarize your child with their school. Complete a school orientation (if available), play on the playground, and arrange a play date with a school friend.
- Go through step-by-step what the morning of the first day will look like (wake up to drop off) so that your child knows exactly what to expect. If your child tends to get anxious at drop off, practice small separations and develop a goodbye routine, such as a hug, phrase, or “secret” handshake together. Role-play the sequence out and then reverse roles so that your child gets to be the parent (this can get pretty silly, which helps to shift anxious energy).
- Focus on what your child can control. Let them pick out their own school supplies, have them decide on lunch options, what outfit they will wear on the first day, and what order their morning routine will go in etc.
- Express confidence for your child when they can’t access that confidence for themself. You can say something like “Like we practiced, now it’s time for me to say goodbye. Worried or not, I know you’re safe and that you will have a good time when you feel ready. I’ll be here waiting after school to pick you up”.
- You can also give your child something to hold on to that reminds them of you, such as a paper heart with an encouraging note that they can keep in their pocket while you’re apart.