It’s that time of year again. Summer is beginning to fade and the days are getting shorter. The intense heat tends to keep kids either in the pool or in the air conditioning, but it also tends to keep emotions, and body temperatures, running hot. Siblings are sick of each other and parents are lacking patience. It’s time to prepare for back-to-school.
For some kids, it’s all fun and games. How exciting to get a new backpack, shop for all the school supplies, and prepare to see your friends every day! But there are some kids who dread it. For many, the words “back-to-school” mean one thing – change. And change can be very scary, if not terrifying, when back to school time comes. The fear overshadows the joy, and parents worry something may be really wrong.
As both a momma to a kiddo who struggles with back-to-school anxiety and a special education professional, I’d like to put your worries to rest. Back-to-school anxiety is extremely common for children, and I have some tips that may help you and your child with this transition.
Now remember that you know your child best. If you have a legitimate concern that your sweetheart may need some professional help to get past his or her anxiety, I completely support you. In fact, both our boys have been in counseling at different times to ensure healthy coping skills with life’s ordeals. So listen to your heart and accept help in your own comfort zone. Whether it be by reading this article or by contacting a child counselor, back-to-school anxiety can improve.
I have both sides of the story with my two boys. My oldest will be a fifth grader and can’t wait for school to start. From the moment he was beginning kindergarten, he has always waved eagerly and disappeared behind the glass doors of his school with a huge smile covering his face. My youngest will be in second grade and feels entirely different – always has. Holding back my own tears while desperately trying to reassure my child that everything will be fine at school became the norm when he was in kindergarten. I knew I needed to do more to equip myself to help him, so I reached deep into my teacher toolbox and sought assistance from many more professionals.
Fast forward two years and we have seen drastic improvement. The back to school anxiety is not completely gone, but we’ve learned to help our youngest cope. I’d like to pass those tips on to you. Here are some ideas:
- Not everything has to be new.
- A big part of the back-to-school routine for many is the excitement that comes with new school supplies, clothes, and even the shiny backpack. But for a kiddo with back-to-school anxiety, less is more. Ask your child if he needs a new backpack or if he would like to use the same one from last year. Do the same with pencil boxes and even clothes. If the shoe still fits, wear it. If not, don’t make a big deal of it all. This brings us to our next point.
- Shop in your kid’s comfort zone.
- Doing the full day of back-to-school shopping or making a big deal of it can cause a lot of stress. Yes, back-to-school day is going to happen and we can’t deny that. But the shopping part, if it has to happen, can change depending on the kid. With our oldest, we go pick out school supplies and new clothes together and he gets all excited. We eat ice cream and make stops at Old Navy, Target, and Payless– three of his favorites and mine too because my pocketbook doesn’t cry as hard. Our youngest typically chooses to sit with mom on the couch at home and surf Amazon and Old Navy online. We eat popcorn and hang out in jammies. It’s comfortable and doesn’t cause extra stress.
- Contact the school.
- I’ve learned that honesty is the best policy. Letting school professionals know your child struggles with back-to-school anxiety is a huge help. For one, you have more people in your corner to help your kiddo once school does start. And two, they can help you prepare. Contacting the school counselor or principal may help you find out who your child’s teacher will be sooner rather than later. That way your child can prepare and you can contact the teacher. Many teachers will even schedule a personal meeting in the new classroom. Why? Because teachers are awesome. No, this is not an invitation to find out who the teacher is so you can call the school and complain. This is an invitation to help your kid grow and adapt to the situation. This is an opportunity to learn, and this brings me to my next point.
- Let it go.
- The more you try to control, the more out of control your kid will feel. Why? Because you can’t be there when it comes time to actually go back to school. You can help prepare, but you can’t stop back to school from coming. You don’t know what the kids will be like or how the day will go, so don’t try to pretend like you do for your kid. Your intentions may be good, but in practice it does the opposite for kids. And all these unknowns are things your kid already knows are there; don’t take that away from him or try to make him believe it will all go a certain way. That’s a part of life and he’s learning how to cope with the unknown. So when he asks questions, it’s okay to say something like, “I don’t know sweetheart. But you know what? No matter what, it will all be okay because your teacher and your family are on your side. Ask questions if you’re not sure. It’s all part of learning.”
- Send a “comfort item.”
- Whatever it may be, it’s okay to send something with your kid. You may need to let the teacher know what the item is and what it’s for. Be sure it’s small, and perhaps even something he can wear on his body, to make him feel like he’s still close to you when he’s at school. For us, it was a cross necklace. I wear a cross all the time, never take it off. So we went and bought our son a cross necklace too. He picked it out himself and wore it to school. Anytime he felt scared, he could hold that cross and know that Mommy had hers on, too. We are a praying family, so it had double meaning for us, but that’s up to you. Asher knew he could say a prayer and that helped him, too. He felt comforted and connected back to his comfort zone.
Ready or not, back-to-school time is coming. Hopefully these tips will help you and your child be as prepared as you can be, but also accept that some things just can’t be controlled. Symptoms of back to school anxiety can be lessened with a little understanding. Have a great school year.