Home Mental Health & Wellness Blog How to Help Your Child Cope with Back-to-School Anxiety

How to Help Your Child Cope with Back-to-School Anxiety

Mind & Mood 09 Sep, 2022

It is perfectly normal for children to feel anxious before going back to school, especially if they are starting in a new school. This can be a worrying and uncertain time for children, for whom school makes up a significant portion of their lives. While some children’s feelings of anxiety may quickly dissipate, others may harbour these feelings for some time. 

Understanding Back-to-School Anxiety

Different children will manifest their anxiety in different ways. Some may become quiet and withdrawn, while others may throw tantrums or cry. In some cases, a child may even complain of symptoms such as headaches or stomach aches, which can be a genuine result of anxiety. Regardless of how your child’s behaviour is affected by their anxiety, the most important step in helping them overcome it is to ensure they go to school. Although you may be tempted to let them stay home for a few extra days, doing so can validate their fears and make them harder to overcome later.

Addressing Specific Fears

1. Safety and Security: Your child might be afraid of being bullied or of a particular child. Listen to their fears, discuss how they might react to various situations, and reassure them that bullying will not be tolerated by you, the teacher, or the school.
2. Belonging and Love: Children often worry about making friends. Explain to them how friendships are formed and maintained, emphasizing the importance of give-and-take in relationships. This approach can alleviate their fears by removing some of the unknown factors and giving them concrete steps to take.
3. Esteem: Children may fear poor performance in academics or sports. Identify specific fears and work together on solutions, such as joining a homework club or practising sports at home.

Coping Techniques for Children

Using coping techniques can help children manage and minimize the effects of school anxiety. There are two common forms of coping techniques - distraction techniques and tool techniques. 

Distraction Techniques redirect the child’s mind from their current anxious emotions to the task at hand. These techniques could include Reading a book, Breathing exercises, Going for a walk or exercising, Using sensory boxes, and Drawing or painting.

Tool/Processing Techniques involve allowing the child to explore their thoughts, emotions, and behaviours, enabling them to manage these emotions more effectively. These include Keeping a diary, Writing a nice card to a teacher or classmate, and Using emotion charts to reflect on school-day emotions.

Advice for Parents

Validate your child’s emotions regarding school anxiety. Identifying their anxiousness and stating that it is okay to feel this way helps them recognise and accept their feelings without judgment. Consistency with bedtime, mealtime, and playtime provides predictability and stability, reducing anxiety-provoking situations. Provide information about the upcoming school year to help them mentally prepare. Visiting the school and meeting the new teacher beforehand can also reduce anxiety. Support your child through distraction and processing techniques to ensure their effectiveness and comfort during heightened anxiety.

When to Seek Professional Help

Healthy coping mechanisms can help children manage school-related anxiety, but some may resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms like self-harm, overeating, drug use, or social withdrawal. If your child engages in these behaviours, seek professional help immediately. Remember, you and your child are not alone. Therapists, school counsellors, and administrators can provide additional support and resources to help manage anxiety effectively.

If you need to consider counselling to address the anxiety your child is experiencing, contact our team of specialised clinicians for assistance. You can book a FREE 15-minute call with us through the booking page. You can also call us on 01 611 1719 or email [email protected] and we'll get back to you.