** Updated**This Autumn term feels so different than before. It must be hard to know how to help your child feel secure about the return to school. There’s no perfect answer to manage the new term and how to help your child settle. It is perfectly normal for them to feel apprehensive and experience some anticipation anxiety. Here are some tips and ideas on how to support the transition.
Manage your worries.
It would be normal for any parent to have worries at this time. There is a real pressure to reinstate routines, even basic ones such as bedtimes, not to speak of the reintroduction of homework. I know many parents are concerned about how their children manage socialising and peer pressure. It’s hard to pass on any worries to our children, so ensure that you take weeks at a steady pace. Try not to take on too many commitments for the next month. Take your time with settling into the new term and do any activities that help you feel calm.
Talk to your child about how they are feeling.
It is normal for them to feel apprehensive as well as excited. Younger children to struggle to express emotions and what they may be feeling right now. The sections of the brain responsible for these areas are not ‘switched on’ in early childhood, hence:
- They can’t link their feelings, thoughts, and behavior in their early years.
- Young children have limited ability to think, reflect, and be reasoned with.
Simply talk to them that it is normal to be anxious during this time. Children may also find it difficult to be physically distanced from friends and teachers while at school – you could encourage them to think about other ways to bond and stay connected. Reassure them the school has safety measures and the best way to stay healthy is to wash your hands!.
How will I notice my Child may be Anxious at School?.
Children show anxiety in three ways:
This is created by the fight or flight stress response. Teach them where they feel it in their body.
- Lots of tummy aches
- Feeling sick
- Feeling dizzy
- Dry mouth
- Wanting to go to the toilet a lot
- Not being hungry or wanting to eat too much
You may notice these symptoms during the first week or the first morning. Hopefully, they will just pass and your child will settle in. There are many more ideas on how to help your child relax and feel calm here:
Thoughts can be overwhelming for children in the same way they are for adults. Younger children will struggle to identify them but older children might be:
- Worrying about the family’s health and preoccupied with catching COVID-19.
- Worrying about how other children may not talk to them or how they are perceived.
- Suffering from lots of ” what if ” thoughts, they often seem unrealistic and occur in the future.
- Thinking the worst, “catastrophizing” about what may occur.
They can manage the thoughts by being a detective:
3. Behavioural Symptoms of Anxiety
Children in the main show us how they feel through the ” behaviour” You might notice:
- They may refuse to return.
- In younger children, prior to a situation, you may notice extreme aggression or meltdowns directed or alternatively distress and extreme crying.
- Not wanting to go to bed or sleep alone. Nighttime fears, waking in the night, and nightmares.
- Find it really hard to separate from you and want to cling to you. (This may be more apparent if you or anyone in your family suffered a bereavement or loss during COVID-19, Your child maybe even more worried about leaving you).
You will need to link the behaviour to the worry. For example, you could say:
I’ve noticed that since we discussed returning to school, you’ve wanted us to stay with at night, maybe you might be worried about it?.
What can I do to help the worry?
Shall we try this…..would that help?
School can be especially hard if your child suffers from social anxiety. While avoiding their fears is not the answer, being fully exposed to them is not the answer either. Providing overwhelming social experiences may lead to overwhelming fear and failure, and may make anxiety sufferers less likely to try again – or at all. Start small and build their courage and work with the school to implement a managed exposure plan. This may mean they have a graded return to school. They may manage mornings instead of the whole day.
Solutions for Back to School Anxiety.
Talk about their Worries
Do talk and name about it, I know many parents worry that it will escalate certain behaviours.
It may be helpful to contact the school and have a home and school shared plan. Children feel safer when the adults around them are consistent and work together. If your child has a new teacher, find a photo of them and show them. I know several schools have even sent a video of the new class layout. You can always request this.
Play out the Worries
Rehearse the new drop off, role play it with toys, playmobile characters, or use puppets. If they suffer from separation anxiety, identify an adult ( attachment figures) they can meet and develop a relationship with prior to starting. It is not helpful if you are anxious to have multiple attachment figures.
Devise a Simple Goodbye Plan
This may be really helpful for the return, even if your child was not anxious prior to the pandemic, they might be now. Have a plan, hug, goodbye, and handover. Draw out the instructions, if the layout/building are different ( they may be attending juniors or senior school)
Help them to ask for help, who would be the best adult to talk too.
Help the transition with a transitional object. Something of yours to keep if they are worried about being away from you or alternatively a ” worry stone”. This is good for children whose parents separated or if they’ve lost a parent during the pandemic.
Ensure your child has an emotional vocabulary. Do they have a word for anxiety such as fear, worry, or being scared? Give it a name and tell them it is not the whole of them and they can be in control of it.
- The worry wobbler
- The worry monster
- The scariness
- The wibble wobble
Communicate that anxiety is normal and everyone feels anxiety or worry some of the time. Therefore, it is normal to worry about being away from mummy or daddy. It is normal to feel worried before starting school. Tell them worry/anxiety are not dangerous within themselves however, they are uncomfortable but the feeling/s will pass. Whether at school or at home, creative activities, such as playing and drawing, help them express and communicate any negative feelings they may be experiencing. This helps children find positive ways to express difficult feelings such as anger, fear, or sadness.
What not to do and say.
Refrain from saying
Don’t worry it will all be fine.
Reassurance sadly does not help anxiety but a having a plan and empathy does.
While you want to support your child by providing them with comfort and encouragement – ensure you also encourage them to face and not avoid the fears that cause anxiety. They are less likely to face their fears if they are not encouraged to do so by you.
Here is a short video on generalised anxiety if you prefer watching rather than reading
You cannot promise negative things or feelings won’t happen. Fear is hardwired, so we can’t eliminate it, just recognize and manage it. If your child suffers from social anxiety, try to help them to reframe a situation.
If we are successful and confident adults, we often underestimate how our child may be feeling. Sometimes, we may think what do they need to be stressed about syndrome.?
Your child knows their fears are irrational, they simply can’t control them.
It’s natural for you to be Anxious too.
It is normal for you to feel anxiety too, and this is not only a new situation for them but for you too. In addition, it may be even harder if you have lost a loved one or suffered a bereavement during this time. Be kind and compassionate at this difficult time. Seek help and support from friends, partners, or teachers, or a therapist. Keep checking in and listening to your children’s concerns, speak kindly, and help them to manage their emotions. Remember, you are not a bad parent if your child suffers from anxiety. There are many complex reasons why your child may suffer from anxiety.
This is all new, so remember there are no rights or wrongs. I hope this helps everyone. I hope to see you at my Sleep workshops in October, click on the link, each of them will be tackling nighttime fears:
Stay safe and well, with love and gratitude Catherine.