The start of a new school year is a time of excitement and anticipation for kids, but it’s also a time of uncertainty. There are new teachers to get to know, new expectations and, in many cases, new classmates. It takes time to slip back into the school “groove,” and there’s a period of awkwardness while the young ones find their new lockers, new classrooms and new seats. For children who struggle with anxiety, the start of a new school year is a terrifying prospect, even for those who’ve been in school for years and are familiar with the routine. Anxiety is a psychological/emotional state that causes children to panic, often for no apparent reason. They may not even be able to say why they’re panicking. It’s especially rough for co-parenting families, but taking a strategic approach can help defuse a tough situation.
Have the important talks
Peer pressure is tricky for kids of all ages. Children want to fit in with their friends, but most of them also don’t want to get into trouble. Thus, being presented with the temptation from their peers to do something they know is wrong puts them in a stressful position, and they tend to carry that anxiety around. Try to anticipate peer pressure your child may face based on her age, and talk to her about ways to always make the right choices. You may want to talk to elementary-aged kids about topics like stealing and name calling, while teens and tweens may need a conversation on the dangers of drug and alcohol use or sneaking out of the house. Above all, assure her that she can always come to you if she’s unsure of how to handle a situation, and that she doesn’t have to sweat it alone.
Make it positive
Try starting the day by directing your child’s attention to positive thoughts. Talk about a couple of things your youngster might be looking forward to, even if it’s just a mid-morning snack, recess or going home when the day’s over. Getting a child to begin thinking about something positive before school can help adjust their perspective and lead to an improved attitude. Remember, anything that gets a kid’s focus away from her fears is definitely a step in the right direction.
A good start
Establishing a healthy and positive routine in the morning can do a lot to help a kid fend off anxiety. Start with the basics: Make sure your child has a nutritious breakfast so she isn’t battling hunger pangs or drowsiness during the day. Making it a key part of your morning routine will provide an important psychological anchor. Try working in some protein (eggs are great), and steer away from sugary breakfast “treats,” which are convenient and very common these days. However, if there’s a particular food that helps your kid get the day started positively, keep it in stock!
Getting back in the groove
Help your child make an easy transition back to school by talking through how things will work, what time homework will commence every day, and what bedtime will be. Avoid making ominous or foreboding statements (talk about grade expectations later on), and make it clear you’re in it together. Sometimes, an anxious child just wants to know that you’re in their corner and will be there if they need help.
Making sure your child has everything she needs as of day one can go a long way toward overcoming the anxiety she’s feeling. Kids don’t like feeling that they’re behind everyone else, so be diligent about buying everything she’ll need early on. She’ll appreciate it, and seeing all those colored pens, notebooks and pencils may stir some positive feelings. Designate a spot for all school-related items, including supplies, coats, and sneakers. Set up an organized study space as well in a quiet part of the house with plenty of lighting, and let her know it’s her spot for studying and doing homework.
Emotional intelligence is your best asset when it comes to helping your child cope with school anxiety. If you can avoid making judgmental statements and help your kid focus on positive things rather than her fears, you can go a long way toward helping her get the year off to a good start.