Coping With Back to School Jitters
The start of the school year can be a stressful and anxious time for children and teens, particularly for those who are starting prep or high school for the first time, or changing schools. Feelings of anxiety and worry for both children and their parents are normal and expected through this transition. One reason for this is that starting at a new school involves change, uncertainty and facing ‘the unknown’, which is in contrast to the comfort and familiarity of home.
Children who are experiencing anxiety about returning to or starting school may have increased sleep difficulties, appetite changes, more physical complaints (e.g. stomach-aches, headaches), cling and/or cry more, have tantrums or increased irritability and anger. Teens and children may worry about issues related to friends, teachers, school work and practical considerations (e.g. catching the right bus to school).
While it’s normal for kids to have worries about school, it is really important that they do attend. Missing school will only intensify their worries and fears, as they miss the opportunity to see that they can cope in the school environment and manage stressors. Additionally, they also miss out on opportunities to build friendships, develop thinking and learning skills, develop strengths and talents, and experience mastery and success.
Tips for dealing with back to school worries and anxiety:
- Develop and maintain routines.Assist your child to have adequate sleep, eat regular, healthy meals and exercise frequently. In the days leading up to school starting, it can be helpful to introduce more structure and routine – e.g. having consistent wake-up and meal times.
- Increase familiarity with the school environment. Attend school orientations, take a tour of the school and practise the bus or train trip to school if necessary. It can also be helpful to organise meetings or play dates with other students who will attend school with your child, or older students who can talk to your child about what the school is like.
- Talk to your child about how they’re feeling, and provide empathy. Let your child share how they are feeling about returning to or starting school, and explore any worries or fears they have. Simply listening to your child and discussing these issues, often in the context of an informal conversation while driving or doing something else, can help to settle nerves.
- Problem-solve where necessary. Once you have a clearer idea of your child’s concerns, talk with them about ways they could cope with potentially stressful situations – e.g. “If X was to happen, what could you do?” This will encourage independence and resilience.
- Encourage positivity and optimism. Last but not least, encourage optimism and a focus on the fun, positive aspects of attending school.
Dr Kate Mulherin
Loreto College Coorparoo Counsellor
This article was published in Issue 14 of our print magazine, February/March 2016.