School anxiety: 5 tips to help your child get back into the class

As both a counsellor and a teacher, I have worked with a lot of children who are anxious about going to school. Anxiety in children can manifest itself in different ways and it isn’t always easy to get to the bottom of why your child doesn’t want to go to school.


The first time you realise there is a problem might be when you notice a change in your child’s behaviour. Some children may become anxious at bedtime and struggle or be reluctant to go to sleep. Others may show the first signs of anxiety when they appear tearful, withdrawn or even angry in the morning before school. Perhaps they have started telling you they feel unwell but there is no obvious cause, or maybe they are struggling at the school gate and finding it hard to leave your side.

This is not uncommon behaviour at the beginning of a new term or school year. Often, children will settle down as soon as they see the familiar faces of their friends and get back into the swing of their daily routine. In most cases, back-to-school nerves will have abated by the end of the first week. Change is a difficult thing for most of us and I am sure that we have all experienced the back-to-school/work blues in our lifetime.

However, if the fear and anxiety around transitioning between home and school have become extreme or consistently long-term for your child, here are a few things that might help.

1. Be prepared

Anxiety can be heightened when children feel out of control. Helping your child to prepare for their school routine can make the transition a little easier. This could mean:

  • talking through their timetable on the evening before school
  • helping them pack their bag before bed so the morning doesn’t feel so stressful
  • making sure homework projects are completed well in advance

As parents, we can support our children with this. When left to their own devices, children will avoid doing things that remind them of school in order to make themselves feel better, but this can increase their anxiety in the long run. Helping them get organised will make a big difference.

Social stories are an excellent resource that support children in building a routine. You can find examples of them online or your child’s teacher or SENCO can help support you in writing a bespoke one. These little stories, written to read and repeat daily with an adult, offer regularity, reassurance and routine that can make a massive difference when supporting an anxious child. They are not dissimilar to the daily affirmations that many adults use.

If we support children through their worries in manageable steps (well in advance of the 9am bell), the fight, flight, freeze response caused by overwhelming feelings can be prevented. It is much harder to reassure and encourage your child to do something they don’t want to do once they are at the peak of their fear.

2. Don’t be afraid of their fear

Children can cope better with anxious feelings when we help contain them. This doesn’t mean that it is our job to take them away though. If a child can talk to you about their worries around homework, school rules, noise or friendship issues, they don’t necessarily need you to jump into ‘fix it’ mode. When faced with our children’s fears, we can fall into one of two camps:

1. The Rescuer

If your child tells you they’ve been in trouble with their teacher or that their best friend is being mean to them, it can be tempting to get straight on the phone and address the situation. This isn’t always useful. Jumping straight in can reinforce the fear for the child, as they learn that it won’t go away without adult intervention, which can make them feel even less resilient. Often, children don’t actually want you to fix it for them, they just want to be heard, reassured or supported in finding a next step.

2. The Minimiser

It can be tempting to tell your child that their worries are unfounded. We tell them that ‘they have nothing to worry about’ or ‘not to be silly’, for example. Although they sometimes sound trivial from the outside, these fears feel big for your child, and it is important to let them talk about just how big they feel.

Simply talking about their worries with you will help. Once the fear is out and they can see from your reaction that you have stayed calm and understanding, they will have a better chance of working through them. If you convince them that they are wrong to be scared or upset, then they are more likely to feel that you don’t understand them, causing them to feel even more alone.

The key is to listen calmly and then ask them what they need from you in that moment. This could be a hug, a note to the teacher, or maybe nothing at all. Just being there can sometimes be enough to let those anxious feelings be aired and for the intensity of them to be reduced.

3. Check in after school

If they have managed to spend the day in school, the afternoon can be a good time to talk with your child about their feelings. Often, anxieties are less at this time so giving them the opportunity to have a brief chat with you can be helpful.

However, this can very much depend on your child. Some children prefer some quiet time to decompress and relax after school, in which case, just reminding them that you are there to talk to is enough.

4. Collaborate with the school

There are many adults in school who can offer support to your child if they are finding the transition difficult. The best starting point is usually your child’s teacher/form tutor, as they spend the most time with them and will know your child best. Teachers/form tutors and teaching assistants can help your child address specific issues around schoolwork and friendships, etc.

Other adults who can offer support are the school Family Liaison Officer and SENCO who are in the position to put pastoral or learning support in place, make adjustments to timetables or refer for counselling or other specialist services.

If your child sees that you and the school are working together to help them feel happier, it will help them to feel less isolated. Sometimes children can mask their feelings so well in the classroom that their teacher may not yet be aware that your child is finding it difficult. As soon as they become aware, it may only take a small adjustment to make a big difference.

5. Look after yourself

It can be very difficult to support an anxious child. Extreme mood swings, angry outbursts and tears can be hard to experience, especially on a daily basis. To be able to offer that calm presence as a parent, it is important to find ways to de-stress and your own people to talk to. Counselling can also help parents through this difficult process.

Remember that this is likely to be a short phase, and, with support, you and your child will be able to find a way through this.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Sittingbourne, Kent, ME10
Written by Catherine Beach, Counselling, Dip Couns, MBACP
Sittingbourne, Kent, ME10

Catherine is a person centred counsellor, teacher and occasional poet from Kent. She is on a mission to rid the world of shoulds and musts, working with her clients to discover their passions, wants and needs. Catherine is passionate in the belief that we are all good enough but live in a world that often lies to us.

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