4 Practical Ways You Can Help Ease Your Child’s Back-to-School Anxiety
Back-to-school jitters are perfectly normal and after a school year that was anything but normal, they are almost certain to creep in again this fall. As parents, we can feel helpless when our kids express apprehension or anxiety about school but there are some powerful ways we can support our children during this transition.
Ease back-to-school anxiety by creating a school-year schedule your child can count on
Kids thrive when they know what to expect. That may be the biggest reason why anxiety creeps in at the start of the school year. Will my teacher be nice? Will I have friends in my class? Who will I sit with at lunch? There certainly are a lot of uncertainties!
Creating a school-year schedule gives your child a daily framework they can count on. Devise a schedule before the school year begins and post it on the fridge or somewhere else in your home where it’s highly visible.
Here’s a sample schedule to get you started:
6:00 a.m. Wake up
6:30 a.m. Eat breakfast
6:45 a.m. Get dressed; brush teeth and hair
7:15 a.m. Double-check backpack; add lunch, snack and water bottle
7:25 a.m. Head out the door!
2:45 p.m. Get off the bus
3:00 p.m. Wash hands; eat a snack; unload backpack
3:30-4:30 p.m. Do something active or rest
4:30 p.m. Start any homework
5:30 p.m. Dinnertime!
6:30 p.m. Finish any homework; do something active
7:30 p.m. Shower; pack tomorrow’s lunch; load backpack
8:30 p.m. Bedtime
In conjunction with your daily schedule, empower your child by allowing them to make some decisions too!
For example, take your child shopping and let them pick out healthy breakfast foods. Allow them to choose their favorite sugar cereal, donuts or cinnamon rolls for Friday morning breakfast as a reward for their hard work that week! Give them some freedom to choose what they want to have on hand for their lunchbox. One idea? Let them pick out a couple of sandwich fixings, a couple fruits and veggies they like, some kind of cheese or nuts and a special treat. If they’re old enough and they’re interested, rope them into helping you pack their lunch each night before bed. It will give them one more thing to look forward to at school the next day.
Ease back-to-school anxiety by teaching your child relaxation techniques
Another way to empower your child is by teaching them relaxation techniques that they can tap into when they’re feeling anxious.
Belly breathing: When we become anxious, we tend to breathe shallowly. Our heart rate picks up and our body moves into fight or flight mode. However, our body also has a built-in relaxation response and you can teach your child how to flip on this switch to override the unpleasant feelings of anxiety.
Instruct your child to put their hands on their belly and take slow, deep breaths in through their nose. Then tell them to exhale slowly through their mouth. There are several great videos that can help them grasp this concept. A few of our favorites include Candle and Flower Breathing, Belly Breathe with Elmo and Taking Deep Breaths for older kids.
Essential oils: In addition to providing us with a relaxation reflex we can kick on by belly breathing, nature also offers us certain calming plant and herb essences that we can diffuse or apply topically to promote relaxation. Buy your child an essential oil room diffuser they can use at home and a rollerball with lavender, vetiver, geranium, frankincense, orange or another calming oil or oil blend that they can rub on their wrists or neck when they start to feel anxious. If your child prefers, purchase a diffuser necklace or bracelet they like and add a few drops of their favorite calming oils each morning before they head out the door to school!
Keep a positive attitude while holding space for your child’s emotions
You are the loudest voice in your child’s world. Your child will feed off of your emotions, negative or positive. Be optimistic. Encourage your child, give them perspective and empower them with positive thoughts and helpful relaxation tips.
Whether or not you think your child’s feelings are substantiated, they are real. Don’t punish your child for feeling anxious. Punishing them for acting out or melting down (fight or flight) is not an effective way forward and will only increase their frustration and anxiety. Instead, listen to your child. Allow them to talk about how they’re feeling. Ask questions: How does your tummy feel when you think about school? What makes you nervous about getting on the bus? What negative thoughts creep into your mind when you’re sitting in class? When your child feels safe to talk about their fears, it’s like turning on a light in a dark room. It helps dispel their fears and gives them a sense of power over them.
Get your child moving!
One of the best ways for kids and adults to de-stress and cope with anxiety is by exercising. When we exercise, our brains release endorphins, or “happy hormones” while at the same time reducing cortisol and adrenaline—hormones that feed a stress response in our bodies.
Whether it’s enrolling your child in an organized sport or yoga class or encouraging them to get outside and run around or ride their bike with the neighborhood kids, aerobic exercise builds self-confidence and is an important part of their physical and mental health.
Then, incorporate stretching and belly-breathing techniques for a well-rounded experience.
For kids ages 6 and up, aim for 60 minutes a day of physical activity. This activity can be broken up throughout the day and in most cases, the more, the better! Not only will staying active help your child combat anxiety but it will help them buckle down and focus when school, homework and chores demand their attention.
If your child is nervous about starting school this fall or showing signs of anxiety, tap into these ideas to comfort and empower them. If anxiety persists or you suspect weak cognitive skills are part of the equation, take our free brain quiz or reach out to us here to learn how we can help!