Understanding your child’s anxiety about returning to school after the holidays can be deeply concerning. You want to ensure they feel secure, confident, and prepared to embrace the school year ahead. With the right strategies, you can provide the support your child needs to manage their anxiety effectively.
Here’s a practical guide to help your anxious child get ready to go back to school:
In the last week of the holidays, start to reintroduce a school-like routine gradually. This includes regular bedtimes and wake-up times, as well as structured mealtimes. A predictable routine can provide your anxious child with a sense of security and reduce their anxiety as the start of the school term approaches.
If possible, visit the school before it starts. Many school playgrounds are open during the school holidays and a leisurely walk around the playground could be helpful before school begins. When you visit before the beginning of the term, your anxious child can find their new classroom, and discuss where they will meet their friends. Familiarity with the environment can reduce first-day nerves.
Most schools have at least one ‘pupil free day’ during which teachers return to work. A meeting with the teacher to discuss your anxious child’s needs can make a major difference to first day jitters. When your child’s teacher gets a private opportunity to reassure your child that they understand their feelings, your child is more likely to feel that they can trust their teacher to be there to support them.
If separation is a concern, practice short separations throughout the week before school returns. By gradually increasing the time apart through playdates or activities where your child is left in the care of another trusted adult, you are building their resilience.
Talk with your anxious child about what they’re looking forward to and what they’re worried about as they return to school. Make a plan together for dealing with their worries. This could include who to go to for help and what to do if they feel overwhelmed.
Use everyday family happenings, such a dinner time or walking the dog to highlight the positive aspects of school. Talking about enjoyable aspects of returning to school such as seeing friends, learning new things, and participating in favourite activities can encourage your child to look forward to their first day.
Teach your child simple calming techniques such as deep breathing, counting to ten, or visualising a happy place. Practice these techniques together regularly before school starts.
Involve your child in getting their school supplies ready. Many anxious children constantly assert control over their world in an attempt to allay their worries, however when you allow your anxious child to make simple choices like the colour of their pencil case, you can build excitement and give them a more positive experience of control.
Set simple, achievable goals for each week of the school holidays, such as saying hello to one new person or trying out a new activity. Celebrate these small victories together as you build your child’s resilience and willingness to try new things in the lead up to the start of term.
Let your child know that it’s normal to feel anxious and that you are always there to listen and support them. Ensure they know how to contact you during the day if they need to.
If your child’s anxiety seems overwhelming, consider seeking support from a child psychologist or qualified paediatric counsellor. These professionals can provide tailored strategies to support your child’s unique needs.
Lastly, express confidence in your child’s ability to handle their school environment. There is a fine line between being appearing unsympathetic to their genuine fears and feeling certain that they are braver than they feel, however your belief in your anxious child can bolster their confidence and reduce their anxiety.
Remember, it’s natural for children to feel some level of anxiety about returning to school, especially after a break. By approaching this time with care, kindness, and compassion you are laying the groundwork for a successful transition back to school.
For more detailed, personalised advice, don’t hesitate to reach out to Kids First’s multidisciplinary team. Our experienced child psychology team members have helped hundreds of anxious children return to school successfully and are ready to support your family with the utmost dedication and professional care.
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