By Juliane Kim
Once August rolls around, buying school supplies is usually the most advertised aspect of back-to-school season. However for many families, the true concern is getting children mentally prepared for going back to school after a long summer vacation. One particularly difficult aspect of back-to-school season for parents is when their children have anxiety related to going back to school, especially if it is their first time going to school or if they are going to a new school.
Some anxiety about going back to school is normal. Aileen Elsaesser, a counselor at Sunstone Counselors in Falls Church, recommends letting children talk about their worries freely. Instead of telling them not to worry or that they shouldn’t be concerned about the things that are worrying them, let children know that being worried about school is a completely normal thing and that lots of children get nervous about going to school.
Asking questions such as “What is the worst thing that can happen?”, “How likely is that to happen?” and “Can you handle it?” helps children talk through their anxiety and the scenarios that they are worried about, as is telling your child about your own experiences with how you’ve dealt with anxious feelings in the past. Teach children to think positive and motivational thoughts like “Even though I am scared, I will be OK” or “It’s normal to feel nervous, but I can get through this.”
Parents can help children ease into getting back to school by broaching the topic of school during the summer so they can become used to the concept of having to go back. Doing mindfulness activities and practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing with children can be helpful as well.
For parents with very young children who may have separation anxiety, one thing that may help is waiting with them for five minutes after dropping them off and gradually decreasing that time until you can simply drop them off and leave. Another thing to do is to remind them at the end of the day they were able to overcome their anxiety that day and that they can do it the next day too.
Keep in mind it is always a good idea to consult a mental health professional such as a counselor if you feel your child’s anxiety is getting to be uncontrollable or disruptive to daily life. Talking to a counselor is a good way for both parents and children to learn how to cope with anxiety and to manage emotions in a healthy way.
Tip 1: If it seems like your child may need more assistance, you can set up a meeting with your child and the school counselor before school begins to show the child they have someone at school that they can trust.
Tip 2: Take some time to go see the school before the first day to give the child a chance to become more familiar and comfortable with the school before going.
Tip 3: Remind children about the good things about going to school, such as making friends, doing exciting activities and learning new things.
Tip 4: Parents of high school seniors should make sure to let their children know that they have support and keep them focused on the present so that they are not overly stressed about the future, like getting into the college of their choice.
Tip 5: For parents who have anxiety about sending their kids to school for the first time, remember that the likelihood of something bad happening is low. Take your mind off of your worries by doing something calming.