The start of a new school year is an exciting time for most kids, but can also be anxiety-inducing for both children and caregivers alike. With the start of a new school year comes the need to re-establish routines, meet new people, learn new schedules, and spend significantly more time away from home.
While summer can be a wonderful time for kids to take a break from the stress of the school year, for kiddos with separation anxiety it can present a bit of a challenge. Over summer break, children re-enter the safety and security of their homes and often do not have to regularly spend significant amounts of time away from this safe space. For most children, this means an increase in stress as the school year approaches and they prepare for the coming changes. However, for kids with high levels of anxiety, this can mean significant distress as they ruminate on their fears of being away from the security of their caregivers, meeting new people, and acclimating to all the changes that come with the start of a new school year.
So, as a caregiver, how can you help? First, we must understand that there are a multitude of possible reasons why your little one may be reluctant to go to school.
Ask them what they are concerned about. Are they worried that they won’t know anyone? Are they concerned about being away from you? Are they worrying about their work load? Check in with your kiddos as the school year is approaching and ask how they’re feeling about it.
Acknowledge their concerns. As caregivers, we want to do everything we can to make our little ones feel safe; even if that means trying to dispel their worries. But, sometimes, this does more harm than good. Instead of dismissing your child’s concerns by telling them “not to worry” or that “it’ll be fine,” listen to their fears and validate their emotions. As caregivers, our role is not to prevent our children from feeling anxious, but to validate their feelings and bolster confidence in their ability to resolve the situation causing their anxiety.
Make an effort to be present. With all the chaos that comes with starting a new school year, caregivers may find themselves overwhelmed and stretched a bit thin. Try to make an effort to be available for your kids when you are home, this allows them to re-enter their zone of safety and emotionally decompress after a long day of school. If your schedule does not allow you to be physically present as much as you’d like during this time, consider leaving an encouraging note in their backpack or calling them when they get home to ask how their day was. By giving your child extra attention, you’re helping them to feel more secure in their attachment to both you and the home which can greatly help ease the transition back to school.
Additional tips to reduce back-to-school anxiety:
- Consider doing test runs of your morning routine (e.g. waking up, getting ready, driving the route to school, and getting out at the drop off point). This helps to establish structure and help your child feel more in control of this transition.
- If your child is worried about reconnecting with peers/ making new friends, consider arranging playdates to facilitate the ease of this transition.
- Remind them that they’re not alone, many children experience back-to-school jitters and it’s likely that many of their classmates are feeling similar.
- Be positive! This can be a very difficult time, but try to remind your child of all the things that make school great such as learning new things and participating in extracurriculars.
Sydnee Maberry is a graduate student at UMSL working towards her Master’s in Social Work, and an intern at The Center for Mindfulness & CBT. Sydnee enjoys working with adolescents and young adults, and she specializes in treating anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other trauma-related disorders. Sydnee is also co-leading a course for girls (or anyone who identifies as female or femme) ages 9-15 with a trusted adult. Cultivating a Mindful Life with Your Daughter starts September 20th and runs for 8 Mondays from 6-7 pm online.