Tuesday, August 11, 2015
Parenting: Reducing Back-to-School Anxiety
1. Have Discussions About School - Begin talking to your children about school and what to expect in a typical school day. Discuss the social aspects of school in addition to the academic aspects. Talk about lunch time, recess, peers and what drop-off/pick-up will be like. Head to your local library or bookstore and select books about going to school to read during the remainder of the summer. Talk about your own positive experiences from school. Dig up your old class pictures if you have any to add a few laughs to the discussion.
2. Check Out The School - Most school's have orientation days for new students that include a tour of the school. If your school does not offer this, call your school or district board of education and arrange for a tour of the school or a meeting with your child's teacher to establish some familiarity. At the very least, prior to the start of the school year, take a trip with your child to the school to allow him/her to see the building up close. Walk around as much of the school grounds as you can and point out areas that would be of interest to your child, such as the playground. Visit the school more than once if possible for a particularly anxious child.
3. Schedule Playtime With Future Classmates - If your child is entering school for the first time, scope out your neighborhood for potential classmates and arrange for some play time. If you are unable to find potential classmates, explain the unknown peers as a fun "surprise". Make a game out of it and have your child guess the number of boys and girls that will be in their class and the possible names of some classmates. If your child has been to school before but hasn't had contact with classmates since the summer started, invite a few school friends over for lunch or a play date. Acquainting your child with a few classmates will decrease feelings of anxiety regarding peer interactions. If you are feeling particularly ambitious, host a small "back to school" party the week before class starts.
4. Involve Your Child in Back To School Shopping - Get your child involved in school supply list shopping and other back-to-school items. Present your child with choices on such items as backpacks, lunchboxes and clothing. Have your child help you plan out his/her lunch menu for the first few weeks. These small activities will allow your feelings a greater sense of control, which is important a child who is anxious.
5. Role Play - If your child has a particular anxiety (bullies, riding the school bus, interacting with peers, navigating a large school, etc), role play the event with your child. For example, if your child has anxieties about riding the school bus, practice walking to the bus stop together. Have a relative or friend play bus driver and have them drive up to the bus stop. Practice saying goodbye and putting your child on the "bus." If possible, have your friend or relative drive your child to school just like the bus would and drive back to the bus stop to practice drop off with your waiting. Coming up with a plan and brain storming coping skills for your child's fears will help him/her feel more confident when faced with the event. Practice often and problem solve potential solutions together.
6. Reward and Reassure - Reward for brave behaviors that your child exhibits. Reward for a successful first day of school. Reward your child for using the coping skills practiced. Now is the time to boost your child's mood and spirits with a special gift or outing in response to positive behaviors.
Sometimes all the planning in the world won't ease an anxious child. An anxious child may exhibit a variety of negative behaviors as the first day of school approaches including physical ailments, withdrawing, fighting with siblings, being defiant towards parents/caregivers, bed wetting, thumb sucking, and other aggressive behavior. Acknowledge that your child is engaging in these behaviors due to school related fears. Normalize your child's fears and anxieties, and encourage your child to discuss those fears and anxieties. Encouraging your child to continually and openly discuss any fears and anxieties with you serves as positive coping skill and gradually increases your child's confidence with continued parental validation and support. If there isn't a noticeable decrease in your child's school anxiety level as the school year progresses, reach out to your school's guidance counselor for additional support and resources.