Northern Centre for Child Development Psychologist, Madeline Sibbing, gives us some tips about helping kiddos with the anxiety about returning to school for the new year…
Who can believe it’s that time of year already?! I was just wrapping Christmas presents and running out of hiding spots…..now I’m drowning in name labels and lunch boxes!
Whilst by now many of us see the start of the school year as something of a sweet relief…..(and the end to those siblings fights!)……many of our children will be developing the jitters about returning to school. A new classroom, new teacher, new group of children, new challenges that can be overwhelming for many of our kids.
In our experience there are a few important things that we can do as parents to help reduce the anxiety our kids experience at this transition. And remember – it is probably unrealistic to erase all anxiety completely – but if we can reduce it to a more typical and manageable level, then we have done a great job! So, here goes:
- As parents we often jump into reassurance mode, after all it’s our job to comfort our kids right? But sometimes with these best intentions we can inadvertently make our kids feel like we are not listening to how they really feel. So just take the time to listen. Ask them questions. Do so in a non-judgemental, curious way. Once you are armed with ALL the information, then you have a better chance of helping your child.
- PREPARATION is key. Many anxious kids try to avoid thinking about school until it is upon them so as to avoid feeling anxious! Other children try to control every little detail as a way of managing the chaotic sensations that anxiety brings. For both these types of kids, preparation and planning is vital. Try on that school uniform, break in those shoes, take a walk around the school yard if it’s your first year, do a test-run of the drive and drop-off to school. The more prepared your child can be, the less anxiety they are likely to feel.
- There are many other strategies that can help anxious children in general, and these can be particularly useful in the lead-up to the school year. These include: “Worry Time”, whereby you ‘schedule’ time to discuss worries with your child and then aim to leave the worries behind once worry time is over. A “Worry Box” is a similar strategy – decorate an empty tissue box, and encourage your child to write/draw their worries on a slip of paper and put them “away” in the worry box. Strategies such as these help children to express their worries and also get them “out” of their head and onto the paper.
- Don’t be afraid to check in regularly with your child’s class teacher. If, after the initial settling in period, your child is really struggling, one of the most effective strategies in our experience is to enlist the support of a key staff member. A welfare teacher, Assistant Principal or Learning Support Assistant may be able to meet your child at the gate and spend a bit of time with them, helping them to transition in to the school day.
As always, if you have specific concerns, talk to your child’s Psychologist or give us a call for further support!