‘Don’t make me go!’ Tips to help with the back to school blues
As many parents breathe a collective sigh of relief with an end to homeschooling on the horizon, there is a good chance that many children are dreading the ring of the school bell. In my role as a teacher, I am used to seeing the typical fizz of nerves as children return to school after a summer break but post-lockdown, these usual nerves may be a little more super charged.
As much as homeschooling has been a challenge for parents and children alike, the security and routine of a new normal will now need to be broken and the reality of returning to the hustle and bustle of a busy school is likely to create some anxiety.
Here is some information on how to recognise hidden anxiety and some tips to alleviate those back-to-school nerves.
Signs my child may be anxious
Children aren’t always able to say ‘I am worried,’ and sometimes they are not even aware of it themselves. Instead, their anxiety may be apparent in their behaviour. Here are some common behaviours to look out for:
- changes to eating and sleeping habits
- increased tearfulness, sometimes without an obvious reason
- complaints of stomach aches or stomach upsets
- an increase in angry outbursts or periods of overwhelm
- a need to be physically close or have more attention
- becoming withdrawn or becoming overly worried about little things
- restlessness or pushing of boundaries and rule breaking
Tips for dealing with stress or anxiety
The best way to help children process their anxiety is to allow them the space to talk about it. However, it is important to let those worries be heard and understood instead of squashing them. Let your child tell you they are worried that their friends won’t want to play with them, without instantly telling them that they are wrong. Let them explain they think the work will be difficult without telling them that you are sure that it won’t be.
Accepting their feelings or worries without judgement is really important. If you want to support them, rather than telling them that their worries are wrong, help them build strategies to cope if the worst really does happen. The risk in telling your child that their worries are unfounded is that they will think that you don’t really understand them, in which case they may choose to worry alone.
So instead, ask them what they might do if the work is difficult or if they have nobody to play with, and come up with a plan together.
Picture the scene
Children can better cope with a new environment if they have had the opportunity to prepare for it. Ask them to write down all the things that might feel different about learning in school compared to learning at home. This list can include both the positive and negative aspects of returning to school. Don’t feel you need to focus purely on the positive aspects of going back to school.
Supporting your child as they contain their anxiety will help them learn to cope with anxious feelings in the future. Learning to manage anxiety is a useful life skill and your support in helping them do this will be indispensable. You will be teaching them to accept their difficult feelings rather than denying them, which will lead to a more positive outcome in the long run.
Start a routine
The chances are that your home school timetable is different to that of the school one, so in the days leading up to their return to the classroom, gently adjust their sleep schedule, mealtimes and getting dressed routine to that of the first day back. I’m sure I’m not the only person who has found themselves still in their PJs at lunchtime.
You may find it useful to walk or drive the route to school a couple of times before the big day so the children can re-establish that sense of familiarity.
Share your own worries and concerns
Parents often hide their anxiety from their children to protect them, but there is a lot to be said about sharing your worries, in a manageable way, with your child.
If you are also feeling nervous about a change, it can be useful to share that with them. I often tell my pupils that I am feeling nervous too, on my first day back after a long holiday.
When children see your anxious feelings, it helps normalise their own and also gives you the opportunity to model your own coping skills. Show them that you are able to live with difficult feelings and still get through the day without the world ending.
Give them a bit of extra time
Try to build in a little extra quality time with your child in the next few days. That may be extra stories at bedtime, watching a film or taking a walk together. It will reassure them that you are there for them and give them opportunities to talk or just seek the comfort of your company.
Build in opportunities to reconnect
Many children have spent much less time socialising in recent months, so are likely to be worried about going back to a busy classroom environment. See if you can arrange for your child to connect online or on the phone with a friend or favourite teacher. A reminder that there will be a friendly face to greet them at the school gate will do a lot to reassure them.
Seek professional help
If you feel that either you or your child are experiencing an unmanageable level of anxiety, counselling can support and prepare you both for this next step.
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