You've bought the stationery, you've sorted out the school uniform ... now how do you help your child calm the back-to-school nerves?
This time of the year can be as exciting as it can be anxiety-inducing. In fact, they can be, and often are, both things all at once.
Feeling anxious about the beginning of the school year is natural for children as, like any transitional time, it involves coping with change. This is why it's so important to support your child through this period, to ensure their worry doesn't develop into something worse.
Here are some practical ways you can help your child cope with back-to-school anxiety:
1. Slowly introduce school routines
Instead of waiting until the eve of the first day of school to send your child to bed early so they get up early the following day, start slowly shifting the bedtimes and wake up times now. This will ensure the change is not so overwhelming when the day comes when they have to be up and ready for school early in the morning.
2. Listen to their concerns
Check in with your child and make sure there's nothing they're worrying about. Remember that no concern is too small. Listen to their worries, whatever they might be, and assure them that there is a solution to every problem. Ask them what they are worrying about? It could be that there is a particular child who they don't want to see, or they're worried about sitting alone at lunch. Find a situation that doesn't feel uncomfortable - maybe meal or bath time or even while sitting in the car - and approach the subject. Remember not to dismiss any of their concerns as silly and validate their worries while giving them coping mechanisms to overcome them.
3. Role play
Help your child develop a plan to face the issues that are worrying them. One effective way to do this is to role play a particular stressful situation, such as an interaction with a less-than-friendly peer.
4. Focus on the good stuff
Ask your child what they are most looking forward to doing when they go back to school and, whatever their answer, shift their focus to that at every opportunity.
5. Remember the basics
School holidays are a time to relax and parents often let their children indulge in the lead-up to school, knowing they'll have to rein it in when school starts. While you want your child to be happy and have as much fizzy as they want while watching Netflix, remember that healthy food will help nourish their brain and will effectively contribute to a successful return to school.
6. Create familiarity with the situation
If your child has back-to-school anxiety, it is likely to be because something about the situation is new to them. The best way to confront this is to remove that element of strangeness about this period. If they're starting a new bus route to school, take that bus with them once before school starts so they are familiar with the way they're going. Go to the library and ask for books about characters that are your child's age and starting school as well. Your child will be able to read about someone they feel is in a similar situation and, that way, they'll feel less alone.
7. Make it exciting
Back-to-school time is anxiety-inducing for parents as well as children. The huge expense of buying new things for your child can make life very tricky for many families. If at all possible, try to make it a fun time for the child. Even if, in the background, you're no doubt trying to figure out how to make all these expenses fit within the budget, the actual act of purchasing a new backpack or lunchbox can be an exciting activity to do with your child.
8. Get them to help with school lunches
Design a weekly school lunch menu and let your child have a say in what goes in their sandwiches and snacks. This will give them something to look forward to during school time.
9. Open up about your own experiences
Remember when it was you who was dreading the first day of school? Be open and honest with your child about what that was like and how you coped. This will help soothe their worries about what's coming up for them, knowing mum and dad faced the same troubles.
10. Spend time outdoors
Time outdoors is the cure for most things in life. Fresh air will make your child happier and shift their mind away from their worries. Also, they're about to spend hours a day holed up in the classroom so it's time to make the most of those free Tuesday mornings in the sun.
Are you a parent in New Zealand? Join our parenting group on Facebook.