By Deborah Wright, Emotional Support Counselor
It’s back-to-school season, and while some children are filled with excitement this time of year, others are anxious.
As a parent or caregiver, it can be difficult to see your preschool or elementary-aged child express anxiety about the start of school. However, back-to-school anxiety is completely normal, and with thoughtful support and guidance, you can prepare your student for a new year and successfully ease them into a new routine.
- Talk about what to expect in advance. The biggest source of young children’s back-to-school anxiety is being separated from parents or caregivers for a significant portion of the day, so it helps to take time to talk to them about what will happen while you are apart, such as classroom routines, lunch, recess, and other activities they can look forward to. And don’t forget to stress that you will come back for your child when school is out.
- If your child is worried about social situations, practice interacting with peers. Some children worry about the social aspect of returning to school. You can help them by practicing first-day conversations and introductions, such as, “Hi. I heard you were in my class. How was your summer?” or, “I think we’re in the same class. I’m glad.”
- Establish a routine and practice it before school starts. Before the first day, take time to walk through a morning routine: have breakfast and gather bags, then drive to school and practice your drop-off and pick-up plans. With your school’s permission, you can even walk the halls ahead of time to get your child familiarized with the building. And be sure to take advantage of any classroom meet-and-greets before the first day.
- Take your own emotional temperature. Back-to-school season can be stressful for parents and caregivers too. Check in with yourself to make sure you are not passing on your own anxieties to your child. Instead, reach out to a spouse/partner, friend, therapist, or other trusted person to discuss your own worries.
- Listen actively and don’t dismiss your child’s worries. Be sure to validate your child’s worries and feelings while also showing your confidence in their ability to handle the situation. Keep these conversations short, as overprocessing may increase a child’s feelings of anxiousness. (You and your child may also enjoy reading and discussing these books that help young students manage their worries.)
- Be prepared for big emotions and distress signals on the first day—and even for the first few weeks. Don’t be surprised if your child complains of physical symptoms, such as a headache or stomachache, on the first day, or even within the first weeks, as children’s anxieties often manifest in their bodies. Remind your child that you are confident in them, revisit what they can expect, and cheer them on as they try hard things.
- Rely on your community. It’s completely normal for kids’ anxieties around school to come and go. If your child continues to struggle, ask for help in supporting them—reach out to their teacher, or even other parents or a school counselor.
About Deborah Wright
Deborah Wright is the emotional support counselor for Rowland Hall’s McCarthey Campus, which serves students in preschool through fifth grade. As a member of the McCarthey Campus student support team, Deborah’s goal is to support students’ learning and social-emotional growth.