Days at the beach are quickly coming to an end as it is now officially back to school season and I want to share how we can emotionally and mentally prepare our children to go back to school, especially after being home for so long.
Going back to school can be a really stressful time for many children, especially if they are starting a new school or having a big transition into elementary, middle, or high school. Having a new teacher, making new friends, navigating new and possibly more challenging homework, and just giving up a fun and more unstructured summer break can be hard. And now, after many children have been home for a year and a half, it may be even more stressful and challenging to go back to school than ever before!
In my private practice I have been seeing increased levels of anxiety from children about going back to school. For some children it’s the anticipation about going back to school and what it will be like and having to adhere to a new routine/structure after being home for so long, for others it’s a social anxiety or fear about being bullied again, learning how to act in social situations, etc. And I have seen high levels of separation anxiety from leaving the home and caregivers.
HOW CAN PARENTS SUPPORT THEIR CHILDREN IF THEY ARE ANXIOUS ABOUT GOING BACK TO SCHOOL?
First, parents should check in with themselves to make sure they are calm and not anxious in any way. A child will pick up on their parent’s anxiety and in turn also show anxious symptoms.
For children having anxiety about going back to school, the best gift a parent can give their child to support them is validation and empathy. Let them know you understand how they feel and let them know it’s ok they feel that way. Then let them know you are there to help and support them
IF WE BREAK IT DOWN BY AGE, WHAT TIPS DO YOU HAVE TO FOR PARENTS TO HELP THEIR CHILDREN IF THEY ARE ANXIOUS?
For children suffering from separation anxiety, have a caregiver that isn’t the primary caregiver (if possible) take them to school so the transition is easier and less based on emotional attachment. Have the child take a photo of their caregivers or something tangible like a piece of jewelry or a shirt that smells like their parent. Have the teacher create a visual chart showing each step of the day until it’s time to go home and after each step (circle time, snack, recess, story time, etc) the child gets to cross it off to visually show them they are getting through their day!
FOR YOUNG ELEMENTARY STUDENTS
Practice saying positive affirmations with them before school like “I am strong. I am brave. I can do this.” You can also try some visual imagery. I love where they can visualize themselves on the beach and use their sensory system to pretend to hear the waves crashing, smell the saltwater, see the sunset, and feel the sand between their toes.
FOR OLDER ELEMENTARY STUDENTS
You can try a Grounding Exercise. I have a favorite grounding exercise I do with my clients when they are anxious that utilizes the sensory system. Have your child sit in a comfortable place and position and then have your child close their eyes and take 2-3 deep breaths – in through the nose, out through the mouth. Then ask your child to slowly open their eyes and tell you two things they see, two things they smell, two things they hear, two things they can touch, and two things they taste (this can be imaginary), and then end by taking 2-3 deep breaths again.
FOR TWEENS AND TEENS
Let your child know there is always an open door to talk. Check in with your child in the morning and ask them how they feel on a scale of 1-10 (1 being the worst and 10 being the best) to gauge where they are at emotionally/mentally. If they have a high number, that’s great, but if their number is on the low end, ask how you can support them. Ask them what would make that number higher. What has to change? What will help? Asking each day will help a parent keep a pulse on how their child is coping as well as lets the child feel seen, heard, and supported without it feeling too intrusive!
WHAT ARE YOUR SUGGESTIONS ON HOW PARENTS CAN PREP THE BACK TO SCHOOL TRANSITION TO MAKE IT EASIER?
START HAVING CONVERSATIONS WITH THEM NOW
Set aside a time to have a conversation with your children during this week to talk to them about what they can expect when school starts and discuss any worries, fears, questions, or concerns they have. They may be wondering if they will be in school all day and if they will have to wear a mask, etc.
START TRANSITIONING ONE WEEK IN ADVANCE
Try to start getting back into a more structured schedule one week before school starts. This means going to bed earlier, getting up earlier, eating meals at the same times as they would be in school, and even catching up on some reading and math skills via books, flash cards, site words, or learning workbooks. This also means giving up more “free” screen time unless its a learning activity.
PICK ONE SUMMER FINALE ACTIVITY
Parents can make a list of pre-approved activities for their children to pick 1-2 from for one last summer finale activity! Each child in the family should pick their own special activity, unless you have more than 4 children, then you can group them by age or preference of activity. I suggest going to the beach, going to the pool, going to the park, going on a hike, or going to get ice cream or frozen yogurt! Then plan to do this activity a few days before school starts or possibly on the first day after school!