Summer has officially ended, and school is in full swing. Often times, the start of a new school year can be anxiety provoking for children of all ages and personality types. With new students, new rules, and a new teacher, the start of school can make even the most extroverted and energetic student anxious. Here are 10 helpful strategies to prepare for and cope with school-related anxiety for children of all ages and personalities:
Notes of Encouragement:
Write a short note to your child and slip it into their lunch box every morning. These can be short and sweet, serving as a quick reminder that their loved ones are thinking of them. Try to include positive phrases about the child, such as, “You are a fantastic reader!”, “I am very proud of you!”, or “You will make some great friends today!”. These uplifting phrases can keep your child’s thoughts in a positive direction! If your child does not pack a lunch, you can always slip the note in their backpack, or in a folder that they check at the end of the day.
Dress for Success:
Come to school the first few weeks sporting the most comfortable and functional clothes. As much as every parent wants their child to look like the coolest kid in school, it is important that the child feels comfortable and their outfit is functional. If a child has a favorite shirt they always like to wear – even if it’s not your favorite – let them wear it. Feeling comfortable will allow them to focus their attention on what’s important: school! Coming to school with functional clothes cannot be over emphasized! Skinny jeans during gym, jelly shoes with heels, and long-sleeves during a warmer fall are all examples of poor functionality. If you can’t do jumping jacks in skinny jeans and heels, neither can your child.
Provide a Familiar Face:
Tape a favorite picture of you and your child inside their desk, lunch box, or backpack. You can even laminate the picture for increased durability. Seeing a familiar face, a loving parent, or a favorite memory will provide some extra comfort throughout the day.
Practice Positive Phrases:
At home, practice some positive phrases the child can tell themselves when they are nervous. Just as adults practice positive self-talk in the shower, car, or bathroom mirror, this strategy can be helpful for children too. Phrases such as, “I am doing my very best!”, “I am capable of success!”, or “Just keep swimming!. Just keep swimming!” can help calm a nervous child in the moment. These short mantras can be practiced at home and used at school silently.
Trial-run Through Transitions:
Knowing the layout of the school can ease a child’s anxiety as well. Children are expected to rotate classrooms and navigate campuses even in Kindergarten now! If a child is nervous about finding their way around or being late, a good strategy is to do a trial run of their schedule. After school, once the commotion has died down, you and your child can walk through each transition throughout their day so they are confident they will know where to go, and how to get there.
Ignore the Small Stuff:
Try to keep from nit-picking small behaviors during the first few weeks. It is very common for kids of all ages to chew on shirt collars, sleeves, nails, fingertips, erasers, and pencils, as well as play with their hair or not eat all their lunch. These behaviors are often a way to reduce anxiety and can also provide some sensory relief. Focus your energy on increasing their confidence, and once the anxiety has reduced, then you can start implementing some replacement behavioral strategies for such behaviors. In fact, many children actually stop exhibiting these behaviors on their own after the first month or two of school.
Practice Positive Self-talk:
Start each morning off by listing 3 positive things about your child. This is a great activity to do during breakfast or the car ride to school. Ask the child to list the 3 things themselves, but feel free to jump in and help if they are struggling. Practicing this activity every morning will help your child develop a positive self-esteem and create a positive narrative about themselves that focuses on their strengths and accomplishments.
Ease into Academics:
Focus less on grades during the first few weeks of school, and more on how well their day went, what they did well at, and things they are proud of. Taking the focus off of grades will relieve some pressure until the child is more settled in. Once the child is feeling confident or less anxious, then the focus can be redirected back to academics.
Keep a Full Belly:
Start each morning out with a good breakfast. Schoolwork, new environments, and anxiety can be mentally and physically tasking. By lunchtime, most kids are starving during the first few weeks of school. Having a hearty and nutritious breakfast can ensure a child has the mental and physical energy to do their best throughout their day.
Remind your child that it is okay to be nervous. Reassure them that many other kids in their class are probably feeling the same way. Try to think of a time when you were nervous (at work, during a presentation, or back when you were in school), and talk to your child to show them that you understand what they are feeling. Children often think of their parents as superheroes, so when they realize that Super-Dad and Wonder-Mom also get nervous they will feel relieved. They will feel even more assured when they hear how their parents overcame the experience and succeeded.
Vanessa Lemminger M.A., LMFT 53937
Marital and Family Therapist
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