Powerful Ways to Manage School Anxiety
Is it that time of the year already?! Being bombarded with sales on supplies and clothing for back-to-school. I’m always reminded of one commercial, in particular: Parents throwing school supplies eagerly in the shopping cart, smiling from ear-to-ear, while the holiday song, It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year plays in the background; the kids dragging their feet alongside, defeated and somber looks on their faces.
While the structure of the upcoming school year can be welcomed by many, for some kids, it can also bring up anxieties and worries that weren’t there during summer.
Here are some ways to help manage any back-to-school anxieties that might crop up with your kiddos:
Establish a connection to school - attend back-to-school nights, schedule some play time with friends on the school playground, or allow older students to tour the building with friends (especially if this is a new environment for them).
Initiate discussions about school - read picture books about the upcoming school year with young kids or bring up dialogue with your teen about any streaming or social media posts that relate to school.
Normalize their worry - it reassures kids to know that it’s normal to have jitters about the start of the school year. It can be helpful to share any of your current or past worries about the start of a new school year.
Help them build resilient mindsets - recognize others who have faced challenges, fears or difficulties. There are positive role models everywhere! One resource might be “The Big Life Kids” podcast which focuses on having a Growth Mindset.
Identify Specific Fears or Worries
Explore specific fears - while also phrasing questions positively. For example, asking: “Who do you think you’ll play with at recess?” instead of, “Are you worried no one will play with you?”
Consider some of the most common school fears - Is your child more worried about academics, social interactions, behavior expectations, having the right school supplies, or is it more about the separation from you? Once you know the specific worry, you can then address it appropriately.
Focus on Positives
Write down worry thoughts and happy thoughts about the school year - For example, one worry might be that they don’t know what the rules are, yet a happy thought is that the teacher will go over these rules on the first day of school. Writing can be a powerful strategy for some children (journaling for older kids and/or drawing a picture for younger kids).
Help your kids focus on fun things at school - things that only happen at school such as recess, field trips, access to friends, school clubs or groups. This will help them shift their focus on fun and positives.
Remind your kids they’re ready! - with all of their thinking (or overthinking) about school, it also means they’re ready for this change.
Consider a way to stay connected - helping kids to know you’re “there” for them can encourage them to face challenges.
Drawing a heart on their hand, giving them a worry stone, small fidget, or carrying a favorite lego piece in their pocket.
Applying perfume or lotion to arms or hands so they can smell it during the day. As the scent wears off, they get closer to seeing you.
Putting a favorite family photo in a backpack.
Writing notes or messages of encouragement in a lunch box.
Sending positive (not too embarrassing) texts to your teen.
Remember, as with any fear, facing anxiety about starting school can provide many opportunities for growth in our kids.
Understanding how to cope with future transitions, making new friends, and problem solving are just a few of the life skills we want our kids to learn. Working through these challenges (instead of avoiding them) can help kids to develop a growth mindset, while encouraging independence and self-advocacy!
For more ideas and tips about helping your child to develop a Growth Mindset visit Big Life Journal.
Wishing you all a positive and “uneventful” start to the school year!
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[This article does not create a client-counselor relationship. This article is general counseling information and is not to be considered legal or medical advice. Please consult with your mental health professional before you rely on this information.]