6 tips to decrease your child's back-to-school anxiety

Two young students at their school desk

The start of school can be an exciting time for many kids as they shop for school supplies and clothes, get together with friends and talk about their summer. However, for others, it can be very stressful and nerve-racking.

Adam Green, Clinical Coordinator for the Child and Adolescent Ambulatory Health Services program at North York General Hospital, gives parents six tips on how they can help reduce anxiety in their child or teen as the new school year begins:

  1. Discuss with your children what they are looking forward to. Our worry minds wander to all of the possible things that could go wrong, so after validating and helping our kids problem solve their worries, we can help our kids shift their minds to all the things that they are excited about, such as seeing old friends, making new friends, meeting their new teacher and classroom, etc.  As we continue to adjust to Covid and things normalize, there will be more opportunities for extracurricular activities and socialization and we should encourage our kids to seize some of these opportunities.
  2. Get back into the routine. The first few days of school can be the hardest as children are still getting used to the early mornings. Make sure children are going to sleep early and working on restoring sleep and wake-up routines during their first few weeks of school to get back into the habit. When buying new school supplies and clothes, use these moments as opportunities to generate enthusiasm for the new school year. Lay out clothing and prepare lunches the night before in order to avoid placing additional stress in the morning.
  3. Practise school routes. Children who will be getting to school on their own should become familiar with the route and amount of time it will take to get to school by practising enough times until they are comfortable. The first week of the school year will help children identify how long it will take them as traffic begins to get busier as more people are on the road. During the first few days of school, children can also find friends who live in the area to walk to and from school.
  4. Become familiar with the school. For children attending a school for the first time, arriving early if possible is very helpful to become familiarized with the layout. Introduce yourselves to the staff that may be there.
  5. Use storytelling to discuss emotions. For children attending school for the first time, parents can read stories to them about school and discuss what the characters might be thinking and how they may be feeling, which can open up a conversation about your child’s own thoughts and feelings about school.
  6. Have a conversation. Ask your child what they are thinking and try to understand how they are feeling. Validate their feelings first and then, if needed, jointly try to problem solve potential issues. This may include role-playing how to cope with situations that are worrying your child, such as what to do if they cannot find where to go, or what they should do if they are being teased.

This article first appeared in the September 2014 issue of The Pulse.

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