I still remember hearing my son’s teacher tell me he was having a tough time adjusting to his environment at school and that he may have anxiety- my heart sank. A future therapy session confirmed that my son did indeed have anxiety- my heart sank further.
During this time, I had two older children in school that were thriving, so this was a new situation for me and I didn’t know how to handle it. I was incredibly thankful to my son’s teacher and to the therapists that assisted us every step of the way- together we worked as a team to help my son be comfortable in the classroom and in other new surroundings, and a few months later, he was!
The big test was when he transitioned into a new grade in a new school- would he regress? Would he have to restart his therapy sessions? I was nervous. But, guess what? There was no regression and he did amazing! All those therapy sessions and efforts by his previous teacher had paid off and I was one proud and relieved mama!
Today, I’m sharing tips that worked for my child that have helped him with his back to school anxiety in hopes that it will help other families that are in the same situation our family once was.
1. Remind your child that he or she is going to be attending a new grade soon throughout the summer, this will mentally prepare him or her for the big day. Every time you buy your child school supplies or new clothes, mention that they are for back to school to remind him or her that the first day back to school is approaching.
2. Children tend to get more anxious in new environments because they are unfamiliar with the setting. To help with this, tour the school and your child’s new classroom together with your child. Don’t forget to show your child where the bathrooms are as well as the office, playground, gym, and the music room. Reassure your children that you will pick them up at a designated spot after school and show them where that spot will be in advance. This amazing tip was shared by my son’s preschool teacher; she made sure to show him the gymnasium before bringing the class in, so that he could feel comfortable in the space beforehand- the result was that he was more prepared and less afraid of the new setting.
3. Take advantage of meet the teacher night and let your child interact with the teacher before the first day of school. This will help tremendously with the jitters children tend to have the night before the first official day of school!
4. Discuss your child’s anxiety with his or her teacher. Teachers are there to help our children and they cannot fully do this if they don’t know what is going on with your child.
5. Let your child pick out a special item that reminds them of you, this could be a charm on the backpack, a bracelet, even a clothing item like socks or a t-shirt. Tell your child that when he or she looks at that item it should remind him or her of you and a sense of calmness is likely to follow.
6. Tell your child how the school day is going to go to prepare them. For instance, inform your child that there will be three recesses and a lunch break, and that the class will go to the gymnasium, library, or the music room on certain days or a field trip.
7. Ask your child how the school day went and what you can do to help make it better for the next day.
8. Have your (older) child keep a journal where he or she writes all of the worries in. Go over the journal together and come up with a plan as a team to tackle the issues. My son’s therapist also suggested we keep a ‘worry jar‘ in his room, so that he can tell all his worries to the jar and then shake the jar and the worries away (the jar had a figurine, some water and glitter in it).
9. Role play with your child. Role playing allows your child to practise how he or she will react in certain situations that may have potential to cause anxiety. This way, your child will be less anxious when he or she is faced with such situations.
10. Help your child practise coping mechanisms, such as breathing exercises, that he or she can do at school to help him or her relax when the feeling of anxiety arises. Here’s an example of a breathing exercise called ‘Squeezing Lemons’ that my son’s therapist had taught us
”Pretend you have a lemon in each hand. Squeeze them hard. Get all that juice out! (Hold for 10 seconds). Now let the lemons drop from your hands. See how much better your hand and arm feel when they are relaxed.”
Helping your child through anxiety requires a lot of work and patience, but it’s so worth it when you see your child improving each day! My most valuable advice would be to always be there for your child and to encourage communication.
*Please note that these tips are what worked best for my child only. Keep in mind that everyone’s situation is different. If your child does have anxiety, I suggest you seek assistance from a professional.