Are you counting the days until your children go back to school? I know that you love your children dearly but the summer holidays can seem incredibly long and, no matter how much fun you have had, in my experience, at this point parents are ready for school to start again.
While you may be looking forward to school re-opening there will be many children who are starting to feel anxious about returning to school. Can you remember those feelings? You start to have problems sleeping at night. You may have gone quiet or started to get grumpy. Every step preparing for school, like buying stationary or getting new clothes, ups your level of anxiety until the night before school starts it’s almost unbearable. There may be a specific reason for getting nervous about school starting but for many of us we didn’t know why we felt so anxious.
I can remember those feelings vividly. Then the dreaded day would arrive. I would walk into school and as I stood in my classroom the anxiety would be at its peak until 30 noisy children burst into the room. As I started to talk to them my anxiety would disappear as my love for the job and the joy of meeting the children would rise in my heart. Yes I even felt anxious when I was a teacher returning to school after the holidays!
The largest group of children who are starting to feel anxious about going back to school are those who have left junior school and are about to start secondary school. Junior school was a place that was familiar to them where they knew their teacher and had established friendship groups. In their final year at junior school they were big fishes in a small bowl. Now they face the unfamiliarity of a large senior school. Suddenly they feel like small fish in a large tank. They will have new teachers, be in a class with new peers and have the possibility of getting lost every time they move from lesson to lesson. It is a scary prospect.
So what can you do to help your child if they are getting anxious about school?
- Firstly you can acknowledge their feelings. Don’t put words in their mouth but give them an opportunity to tell you how they feel. Ask them if they can give their feelings a name. Ask them where in their body they are feeling their anxiety. Get them to describe it with size, shape, colour. As you ask these question you are acknowledging their anxiety but you are also helping them to lower the strength of the feeling by getting them to become the observer of their discomfort.
- Do not tell them there is nothing to worry about. If your child is feeling nervous and you dismiss the cause of their nervousness you will make them feel worse.
- Get them to visualise their first day back. This is an exercise using their imagination so get them to describe what their first day back would look like if it was the perfect day for them. This way they start to focus on the good things about going back. You can get them to anticipate meeting new friends in a good way so that they feel excited not nervous. In truth there is a very fine line between these two feelings and it is often a deliberate thought that decides how they intend to interpret the butterfly’s in their tummy.
- Start to re-establish bed time. Sleep patterns can easily be disrupted during holiday periods, especially over the long summer holidays. A lack of sleep is one of the biggest factors in feeling anxious. Don’t leave it until the last minute to get the children to go to bed earlier. Start now so that they get plenty of sleep this week.
- Deal with your own feelings of anxiety. It is a natural feeling for you to be worried about how your child will cope in secondary school but you do have control over your thoughts. You can choose to focus on all the things that could go wrong or you could choose to focus on all the new opportunities that will open up for your child. I cannot express strongly enough how your son or daughter will feed off your feelings. Even if you don’t say anything they will feel what you are feeling. If you feel anxious about them feeling anxious it becomes a vicious circle.
- Take time to breath. I mean this very literally. When you or your child start to feel anxious one of the first things you can do is stop what you are doing and take a moment to take some deep breaths. There are a number of different techniques but the easiest is to count. One way would be to count 4 as you breath in, then hold for 4 and breath out to a count of 4. Or you can try count to 7 on your in breath and 11 as you breath out. These breathing exercises are great because you can do them anywhere and no one else needs to know.
There is so much that you can do to help your child. Anxiety is not who they are it is something they are feeling and there are plenty of ways to help them take control of their anxious feelings.