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Tips for Managing Back to School Anxiety

Back_to_School_AnxietyAugust has begun, “Back to School” commercials buzz on the TV, and the last long slow “Sunday night” before school is among us. Parents of kindergarteners are getting ready for their children to take the first steps of their educational process, much like their little ones actual “first steps” cause anxiety and excitement for parent and kid alike.

Here are some common school stresses and the remedies to go with

  1. Worry: If Child doesn’t “love” school this will make going to school a life long burden
    1. It’s hard to predict how a child will handle separation on the first day of kindergarten. Some kids will cling to their parent in terror, while others will hop happily off without even a parting glance in the parent’s direction. If your child comes across as anxious keep in mind the anxiety they experience is a perfectly normal part of the developmental process.
    2. Remedy: Start by making your child feel comfortable and get familiar with the new routine. This may be explaining what school will be like, visiting the classroom or teacher, making time to connect with other students and do dress rehearsals of the morning routine like getting ready and driving to school. If your child is showing signs of anxiety teach them some stress relieving skills like deep breathing, replacing negative fearful thoughts with positive alternatives, journaling (or in a kindergarteners case drawing a picture of how they feel). Let your child know you empathize with heir feelings but avoid prolonging the goodbye and avoid offering an “escape plan” like “If you really need me just call home and I will come get you.” This does not communicate confidence and gives your child the opportunity to prolong the adjusting process. Give your child an open space to talk about these feelings before or after school but be open, clear and consistent about what you are going to do when you drop your child off and pick them up each day.
  2. Worry: Kindergarten experience has lasting impact on future education.
    1. The pressure to get Kindergarten right makes for anxious parents… And anxious parents make for anxious kids. Your kids pick up cues about how to act from you. Parents, nowadays, are inundated with statistics like a 2010 Harvard study that found that not only did academic performance in kindergarten correlate to future earnings, also just being in a smaller class size for two years increased the chance of going to college by 2 percent. The pressure to go the “right school,” have the “right teacher,” can start your child’s educational experience in an overwhelming way.
    2. Remedy: Start by conveying confidence and optimism in your child, her teacher, the school and let your child know if there are any problems at school to please share concerns with you and parents will work with teachers to correct any upsetting situations. Let your child know you have a plan to brainstorm and problem solve as things come up. Let your child in on age appropriate portions of the conversation like what ideas your child has. Begin a process for communicating to your child’s teacher about how they are doing but do not focus about how they measure up.

Education.com offers some great specific tips for parents helping their child reduce separation anxiety when starting school. They can be read below:

  1. Carefully check out the school before you decide to send your child there. Make sure that it is an environment where you know your child will feel comfortable. If you feel good about the school, then your confidence will be apparent to your child.
  2. Make kindergarten something to really look forward to. Prepare for the big day a few weeks ahead of time. Post a calendar, and mark off the days as if you are excited about an upcoming holiday or birthday. Pick out a new lunch or backpack together and save it for the big day. Plan a special, celebratory breakfast for the first morning.
  3. Find out who will be in your child’s class, and arrange to play with some of the children a few times before school starts. After school begins, plan get-togethers with children from the class after school and on the weekends.
  4. We are all much less likely to be anxious if we know what to expect. Take your child to visit the school a few times before the first day. Arrange to meet the teacher. Look around the classroom and the school so that your child knows where the bathroom is, where their belongings will go, what the playground looks like, etc. Spend some time together playing on the playground and walking around the school. Keep telling your child how exciting and wonderful this experience will be.
  5. Ask your child if she has any questions about school. Answer them honestly, and if you don’t know, find out the answer. If your child is worried about making friends or talking to the teacher, practice some easy phrases, such as, “Can I play with you?” and “Can I go to the bathroom?”
  6. Give your child many chances to talk about how he is feeling about going to school. Do not assume he is scared, or plant the idea in his head by asking, “Are you worried about going to school?” However, if you are sensing that he is apprehensive, but can’t communicate that feeling, say, “Are you a little unsure about what kindergarten is going to be like?” Try to figure out specifically what the concern is. Let him know that whatever he is feeling is okay and normal. Share a time when you went into a new situation, how you felt at the beginning, and how it ended up okay in the end.
  7. If your child says that he doesn’t want to go because he will miss you, respond by saying, “I will miss you, too, but I’m really excited about everything you will get to do in school. I can’t wait to hear all about it when you come home.”
  8. When you get to school, keep it short, and stay calm. Hug your child, and say, “I love you. I know you’ll have a great day. I’ll pick you up at 1:00. Good-bye.” Smile and walk away. It is helpful to tell your child ahead of time what you will do and say that morning, so she is prepared.
  9. Do not hesitate when you leave. Be prepared for the fact that your child might cry and be upset, but have confidence that the teachers know how to handle the situation. The more you drag out the good-bye, the more painful it will be, and the longer it will take your child to get adjusted to leaving you. If you run back the minute your child starts to cry, you are teaching him that crying will prevent you from leaving, and he will do it every morning.
  10. Children will pick up on your slightest bit of anxiety and will wonder why you are concerned. It is incredibly important to prepare yourself, in addition to preparing your child. Practice what you will say to your child and how you will stay calm. If you feel like you are going to cry, do your best to hold it together until you are out of your child’s sight.
  11. Make it your absolute first priority to pick up your child at exactly the time that you said that you would. It will be easier to get her to school the next day if she trusts that you will be there on time to pick her up. Ask her questions about her day, focusing on the positive. Tell her how proud you are of her and how she must be excited to go back tomorrow.
  12. Prepare yourself for a few days, or even weeks, of difficult mornings and separations. Remind yourself to be consistent, be calm, and be optimistic. If you can solider through a few rough days, your child will get used to the routine and future separations will be much easier.

If your child continues to express anxiety beyond what is reasonable then they may value from speaking to an individual or family therapist to help express and communicate feelings, learn techniques to emotionally regulate, and to create plans as a family as how to proceed. To schedule an appointment at Birmingham Maple Clinic call (248) 646-6659 or visit www.birminghammaple.com