Inside: Tips to help manage back-to-school anxiety
Now that it’s August, summer is coming to an end and the first day of school will be here before we know it.
If your kids are like mine, the first day of school can stir up alot of different emotions! My kids are sad that they won’t get to stay up late and sleep in as long as they want.
My 4 year old is worried that he won’t make any friends, even though he’s well liked and I’m pretty sure was friends with almost every child in his class last year. He’s also nervous that he won’t know what he’s supposed to in Kindergarten.
Sometimes kids aren’t able to tell us they’re feeling nervous, but they might experience physical symptoms of anxiety like frequent stomach aches or headaches. This chart from Anxious Toddlers shows some other ways that anxiety can affect the body.
All of these feelings are normal and ok, but they can be overwhelming for children and their caregivers who don’t know how to help.
Here are my Top 8 Tips for Helping Kids Deal with Anxiety about the First Day of School:
1. Take a Trial Run
Most schools have Open House where you can go meet the teacher, find out where their classroom will be, and learn what to expect on the first day. This might help kids who are nervous about not knowing what to expect, especially if they see that some of their friends are in the same class.
2. Plan a Play Date
Our school has facebook groups for every grade level and sometimes the parents arrange play dates prior to the first day of school so the kids can get to know each other. It’s also a great way for the parents to meet and talk about questions or concerns they may have.
3. Draw a Picture
Color Your Heart is an activity that helps kids name and express the feelings they’re having when they’re too overwhelmed to put them to words. Check out my previous post here on how to do this activity with your child. Older kids might be able to draw a picture of what they think the first day of school will be like. Both of these activities can be good ways to help your child let their guard down and open up conversations about why they are feeling anxious.
4. Read a Book
The Kissing Hand tells a story about Chester the raccoon, who is nervous about going to school and leaving his mom. She tells him about a family secret called the Kissing Hand to help him feel her love anywhere he goes through where she kissed his hand.
I also love the book On The First Day of Kindergarten. It’s great for nervous or excited kids who are about to go to Kindergarten and don’t know what to expect. It’s adapted from The Twelve Days of Christmas song and points out that even though saying goodbye to your parents is hard, Kindergarten is full of fun.
5. Practice Coping Skills
Worry Wars, by child therapist Paris Goodyear Brown is a great activity book with practical ways to help children with anxiety battle their fears. The activities are designed to be fun and easy enough for parents to be able do them at home with their child.
6. Relaxation Exercises
Lori Lite, a parent whose own children struggled with anxiety, created a collection of relaxation cds for kids called Indigo Dreams. They include stories about animals that introduce stress management techniques to kids in an entertaining way. Her website Stress Free Kids has other great resources to help kids with anxiety including games and coloring pages that go along with the cd.
7. Ensure Your Child Gets a Good Nights Sleep
Try to start getting into a healthy bedtime routine a few weeks before school starts so that the adjustment to waking up early for school isn’t as hard. Then stick with it. It may seem like kids resist routines at first, but once they become habit they help them feel safe and secure.
8. Increase Their Confidence
People with low self-esteem feel that they aren’t good enough and are always afraid that they’re going to fail, which can lead to a vicious cycle of increased anxiety. Help your child see that they’re capable of succeeding in school by making a list of all the things they are good at or what others like about them. Most importantly, let them know that you love them unconditionally even if they make mistakes and you’ll be there to help them if it gets hard.
If you think your child has overwhelming anxiety that’s interfering with their ability to attend school or social events, I recommend seeking professional help. You can find a listing of credentialed play therapists in your area who specialize in working with young children at www.a4pt.org. Your pediatrician can also be a great resource to help you decide if your child needs additional support.
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