For many children returning to school brings with it feelings of fear, uncertainty, anxiety, and big emotions. However, when this anxiety starts to interfere with your child’s ability to enjoy school or participate in activities, it is important to address it. Let us talk about how to deal with school anxiety today and ways in which we can help our child cope.
What is school anxiety and how do spot it in your preschooler, kindergartner, or young school-going child?
SCHOOL ANXIETY SYMPTOMS
School anxiety is when your child has excessive fear about going to school, making friends in school, or participating in school activities.
You can spot it when you see your child showcase the following symptoms,
- School refusal
- Emotional changes like loud outbursts of emotions whether anger, inconsolable crying over minor things, constantly uneasy, and fussy.
- Sleep disturbance
- Panic attacks
- Withdrawal from social activities or at-home family time.
- Increased tantrums
HOW TO DEAL WITH SCHOOL ANXIETY
Start by listening to what your child says about the school reopening. What words is your child using to describe his feelings about the school reopening?
Small children who have spent a lot of time around their primary caretakers may find it hard to cope with separation anxiety and not be able to verbalize it. Look for cues in change in behavior or any new tantrums.
Encourage your child to talk about their worries or concerns. Listen to them patiently and validate their feelings.
- Acknowledge the child’s feelings
Children may have concerns about school rules, fear of safety, discomfort around change in routine, anxiousness about friendships outside of the home. There can be many reasons for the child feeling uncomfortable with the transition.
Reassure them that it is okay to feel nervous or scared and that everyone feels that way sometimes.
It is best to acknowledge your child’s feelings, explain simply about school life and rules and address any other specific problems the child is facing as a partner of the child.
- Problem solve
Give him something to look forward to at school
With anxious children, it always helps to give them an idea of a specific event at school or a particular class to be able to look forward to. Helping them see the day beforehand and giving them appropriate phrases to say in certain situations helps ease some of the anxiousness around leaving you.
If your child has already verbalized his/her emotions help them problem solve. Bring their focus on what they can do to shift focus from worrying.
To understand what to say to your child if they don’t want to go to school, read this post.
4. Practice relaxation techniques
Teach your child some simple relaxation techniques like deep breathing or positive visualization. Encourage them to take deep breaths when they start to feel anxious or imagine a happy place to calm down.
5. Prepare for the period of adjustment
School reopening means the start of a new daily routine. Many children will be resistant to such a change. If the child is older, you can discuss the new routine with him/her and include them in designing their day. For younger children set up sensory bins/loose part play after school to help ease the transition back home.
6. Stay calm and keep things positive at home
Use positive and encouraging words at home. Remain calm when the child is having an outburst knowing that it is a hard time for children. Use the time at home to teach children about how they can help out in school or go on play dates with class friends. All of this creates a positive feeling about school.
7. Create a consistent routine
Establishing a consistent routine can help your child feel more secure and confident. Set up a regular schedule for bedtime, meals, and playtime, and stick to it as much as possible.
Related reading : The secret to a peaceful morning school routine.
8. Familiarize your child with the school environment
If possible, visit the school with your child before the first day. Show them around the building and point out the different areas like the classroom, playground, and cafeteria. This will help your child feel more familiar and comfortable with the school environment.
9. Discuss with the school teachers on how they plan the transition
If you suspect your child is going to have a harder time transitioning, discuss with the class teacher about different ways in which he/she can help your child adjust. Maybe recommend that the teachers spend some time on activities helping children warm up to the new environment.
10. Encourage socialization
Encourage your child to make friends and socialize with their peers. This will help them feel more connected to the school community and less anxious about being in a new environment.
11. Seek professional help if necessary
If your child’s anxiety is severe or persistent, seek professional help from a therapist or counselor. They can help your child learn coping skills and develop a more positive mindset.
Take it slow, don’t speak for your child or silence his/her concerns and trust that your child will be able to cope with the new transition with you by their side.
BOOKS FOR YOUNG CHILDREN TO DEAL WITH SCHOOL ANXIETY
The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn
I don’t want to go to school by A.J. Cosmo
The Koala Who Could by Rachel Bright
The Girl Who Hated Books by Manjusha Pawagi
Otters First Swim By Adrienne Kennaway
QUESTIONS TO ASK THE CHILD TO MANAGE SCHOOL ANXIETY AND FEAR
1. What do you worry about?
2. What about school feels hard for you?
3. What would happen if (play what would happen if with the child to act out scenarios at school, for example, what would happen if you cannot sit with your friend in class today? What would you do?)
4. What is your favorite part of the school day?
5. Name 3 things you loved about school today
6. Name 3 things that were hard for you today at school
7. Which soft toy do you want to carry with you to school today?
For more questions to ask children about school read this older post of mine.
School anxiety is a common experience for many preschoolers and kindergartners, but it doesn’t have to be debilitating. By following these tips and providing support and encouragement, you can help your child manage their anxiety and enjoy school to the fullest.