Back to school can be both an exciting, and anxiety-provoking time of year, especially if it's a new school.
For some children, they may have a great deal of anxiety about change in general, which could include school. Try to put yourself in your child's shoes and remember your apprehension about going back to school.
It's important to validate their feelings so they feel heard, but also problem solve and plan together so they learn valuable coping skills they can use to emotionally challenging situations.
Ask them what they're most worried about.
Ensure your children that it's normal to have worries or fears, especially when it comes to new situations. Even adults get worried or scared to try new things.
They may be worried they'll get a teacher they don't like, or their friends won't be in their class.
Or maybe there are bigger concerns such as bullying.
Use "what if" statements
"What if" your friends aren't in your class - what would happen?
They may say something like "I won't have any friends to sit with" or "I can't make new friends, no one likes me."
It's important to validate that fear, before moving on and trying to convince them that things will be ok.
Instead of just reassurance, practice problem solving.
While reassurance can be helpful, it's also important to use problem solving and make a plan for the worst case scenarios.
You might say, "That would be too bad, I can see how you would be concerned about that." but then remind them that they would still see them at recess and after school. Maybe you could plan some play dates in advance so they know they have guaranteed time to spend together.
Eventually, when you work through each of these situations together, they will see that they don't have as much to worry about as they thought; it helps them to realize that some of these things may not even happen, and that even if they do, they will be ok.
However, if bullying is one of their worries, be sure to put together a plan so they feel safe and confident in their ability to deal with bullies.
Focus on the positive
Ask them what they like the most about school - what are they looking forward to?
Perhaps they're looking forward to learning about a particular topic, show and tell, or playing at recess with their friends.
Focusing on the positive helps foster a mindset of resilience and optimism. It also helps them feel confident that they have things to look forward to and shifts their mindset out of fear and into hope and excitement.
Make "back-to-school" fun
Help them get excited about back to school by picking up new school supplies or maybe a new outfit. Offer to make their favourite dinner on the first day back.
Offer Regular Support
New things are scary for kids. Remind your child that no matter what happens, you are always there to listen and support them. Having a safe space to land after an emotionally hard day at school can make a big difference in how your child adapts to changes and new experiences. Because kids crave routine, it may be helpful to set aside a check in time each day where they can come to you with their concerns and feelings.
Prepare and Practice
If your child will be walking to school on their own, in the weeks leading up to school, especially if it's a new school, it may be helpful to walk the route with your child to school several times so they get comfortable navigating their way.
On the first day, if you can't walk with them, have a loved one or older friend or family member walk with them and drop them off.
Keeping Your Cool
Children take cues from the adults in their lives - when you remain calm and confident that things will be ok, they will take that cue and it will make drop off time easier. Be firm yet confident with your child when saying goodbye, instead of giving into tears or tantrums. Ask them why they're upset, talk it through briefly, then say goodbye.
Don't Forget To Cover the Basics
Anxiety can contribute to poor sleep or appetite. Support your child in obtaining optimal sleep by having routines, encouraging daily movement, and a calming bedtime routine as well as proper nutrition as it will go a long way to helping them manage their worry and emotions in general.
If your child is having a hard time coping with their feelings and even avoids "normal" school related activities such as playing with friends or joining a sports team or club that they would normally be interested in, don't hesitate to reach out for support.