Heading back to school can be an anxious and stressful time for kids — and for parents, too! New schedules, new notebooks, new teachers and classmates add up to a lot of excitement and oftentimes, anxiety. All that change can get everyone in the family into a tizzy. One important element to consider is the way in which a parent or caregiver can intentionally help children face the upcoming school year, especially if they are feeling nervous about school. Here are a few proactive tips to help smooth the transition this fall:
1. Identify and face any anxieties you may have about the situation.
Anxious children often cause anxiety for parents. If you can’t get your anxiety under control, don’t expect your kids to manage theirs. So check your own emotions about it: are you more worried about your child’s transition than they are? Make sure that you are not contributing to the problem before you talk to your child.
2. Discuss the upcoming transition with your child when they are most relaxed.
Oftentimes fear and anxiety about school surfaces when children are already anxious or tired; this dynamic can feed the problem instead of help. If kids start to get revved up, help them calm down by redirecting to a more peaceful time: “Wow, you have some strong feelings about that. That’s important to talk about. Let’s do that right after dinner tomorrow. I’ll write a note to remind us.”
For more information on these principles, check out our book,
Discipline That Connects With Your Child’s Heart.
3. Start your discussion with hopeful empathy.
Knowing you’ve “been there” and can relate to what they’re going through will help your kids normalize the situation and feel less overwhelmed. Let them know you understand without strengthening their perception of the actual problem/threat. For example you might say, “I remember being afraid of starting school when I was your age. It was hard, but the older I got, the more I realized I didn’t need to be afraid. You’ll make it through OK, too.”
4. Gently remind your child of past successes or times of “overcoming.”
Avoid telling your child how to feel, but make neutral observations or ask questions to remind them of how they dealt with tough situations in the past. (“Do you remember when… How did you get through it?”) This boosts confidence and empowers children to be responsible for their own feelings.
5. Make a plan.
Once your child has identified their main anxiety, facilitate a discussion about problem-solving to help them determine what will make them feel more comfortable or confident. If they get stuck, offer a few suggestions and let them choose what they think will be most helpful.
6. Pay a visit!
Often the thing we fear the most is the unknown — so make it known! Take time to visit the school, find your child’s classroom, play on the playground, and see where everything is. You might even set up a brief meeting with the teacher, taking the opportunity to mention your child’s anxiety and need for a warm welcome. See if there is a way your child could serve their teacher, which gives a focus to the visit and builds your child’s confidence.
When our son Noah was anxious about school, I asked him if he would like me to find him a verse about God’s peace, and he has loved Philippians 4:6-7 ever since! School anxieties hold great opportunity to help your child to learn to deal with life’s inevitable stresses and worries. Capitalize on that opportunity!