Back to school anxiety - psychologist's thoughts
Going back to school can be a lot to take in for young children, they can become anxious and emotional. These reactions are likely due to the average day in school being filled with many stress factors like having to be separate from parents, managing peer pressure, dealing with academic expectations and navigating crowded and noisy school hallways.
These are just a handful of stress factors that children face every day in school. There is also the child’s temperament, their home situation and any learning difficulties the child has which can impact on how they feel about school.
Because of these factors, children experience anxiety when the new school year is around the corner. Parents start to see them get worried and look different; you see the joy of the summer disappear from their eyes.
Signs of back to school anxiety.
For children who already have long-standing anxiety problems, going back to school after holidays or a period of illness can be very stressful for them. For other children, psychologists have found that there are certain signs to look out for.
1) They continually want the parent to reassure them that they will be alright. They keep asking questions like: "What if I am not in the same class with my friends?” “What if nobody wants to sit with me?” “ Will everything be alright?"
2) They complain of physical issues like headaches, stomach problems and tiredness.
3) They start showing a significant change in their sleeping pattern. Some wake up abruptly in the middle of the night while others find it difficult to fall asleep.
4) They start avoiding school-related activities like school tours, and the other activities are school-related. They might be slow to start their day on school mornings, take longer to finish breakfast and to get ready.
How To Deal With Back-to-School Anxiety
Parents and school teachers often have to drive the change needed to address the anxiety. Psychology experts have come up with strategies that can help.
Handle the basics.
No human being functions properly when tired or hungry. Most anxious kids sometimes forget to eat because they do not feel hungry and most don't get enough sleep, so they are tired. The parent must provide frequent and healthy snacks for the child. Ensure that the child gets enough sleep and also gets enough to eat. Handle the basics first.
Encourage the child to share his/her concerns.
Children irrespective of their age can express their emotions. One way to help the child is to ask what is making him or her anxious. After gathering the information, tell the child that his/her concerns are valid and that it is normal to have such worries. This may seem insignificant but it helps your child feel heard. Try to stay calm as you are speaking with your child about their concerns.
Avoid giving the child reassurance:
Children are keen to seek reassurance that everything will be fine and that they will not face any problems in school. Do not encourage this in the child, rather inform the child that problems will come and that he/she must learn to face these problems and that they have your support. Rather than reassure, teach the child how to handle real-life problems. This can be done by helping them to relax, talk to others including their teachers, making their needs known and asking for help and behavioural strategies to tackle certain problems.
Psychologists who have experience working with children are well suited to help with school avoidance or anxiety related to school. If you and your child live in regional or rural WA and would like to see one of our telehealth psychologists who work with children contact us on 08 9467 2272.