How to help your child keep a level head about going back to school
Published on: 01 September 2019 Author: Natalie Costa and Beth Cox
Natalie Costa and Beth Cox share their advice with any families facing the annual back-to-school worries and fears.
Going back to school can bring up lots of wobbles. The summer holidays are soon to become a distant memory and your child may be beginning to think about new classmates, a new teacher and the new challenges they might face.
But this time doesn’t need to be filled with worry and anxiety.
Here are our top tips to help your child keep a level head:
- Talk about what there is to look forward to. Take a large piece of paper and brainstorm all the changes that might be to come and the things that are good about these – this could be the opportunity to make new friends, go on school trips, or even just a shopping trip to buy some new equipment. If your child has particular worries, help them to focus on what could go right rather than what might go wrong.
- Talk with your child about a time when they did something new or difficult, or overcame a challenge, and help them focus on how that helped them to grow. Ask: How did you feel? What were the challenges? What did you do? How did it make you stronger? What did you learn about yourself? What good things came out of it? How can you use this information to help you now?
- Encourage your child to set themselves challenges that will gently start to take them out of their comfort zone. Start small at first, and gradually build on them. The first challenge might be trying a new food, next they could try a new activity or speak to a child they don’t know at the park. This will help them to realise that they can do hard things and that facing fears can lead to good things happening.
- If your child is expressing worries, help them change unhelpful statements into positive or empowering ones. For example, change ‘the work will be hard’ to ‘I’m looking forward to learning new things.’ Or, ‘I’m worried about making new friends’ to ‘I am likeable and can’t wait to meet new people.’ This helps your child to take control of their brain and focus on the positive.
- Write some positive affirmations together and stick them up where they will see them regularly. Get creative and decorate them if you want, but they work just as well written on a sticky note! Help your child to write positive statements about who they ARE and what they CAN do, such as: I am a good friend. I believe in myself. I can do hard things. I am perfect as I am. I am my own person.'
- Start to reestablish a routine before school starts so that your child becomes more accustomed to going to bed and getting up on time before school is added in to the mix. Travel the route to school and walk around the local area so that they become familiar with everything around the school. This is especially useful if they are starting a new school.
- Talk with your child about how they feel about the first day. Encourage them to picture themselves having a really good day. They can draw a picture or write about what happens, who they talk to and what they do. Encourage them to imagine feeling confident and to think about what can they hear, smell and how they feel inside. Encourage them to replay the scene regularly in their head. Imagining the day going well will help them to feel more confident.
- Give your child some strategies for making friends. Talk about what they want in a friend and what kind of friend they want to be. Prepare them with a couple of questions that they can ask classmates to build friendships, such as: 'What was the best thing about your holiday?' 'What are looking forward to?' 'What do you think of our teacher?' 'What do you think we’ll learn about this year?'
- Get your child to write a letter to someone younger than them, giving advice about going to school and starting the new school year. This empowers them to see how far they’ve come, and they will realise that they can use the advice for themselves.
- Help your child to build a toolbox of calming activities for when they feel worried about things. These could include belly breathing (take a deep breath right down into the belly, breathing in for the count of two and out for four), making a playlist of calming songs, doing some quiet colouring, listening to an audio book or blowing bubbles. Find the things that work for your child.
Illustration by Erika Meza
On the first day back at school, encourage your child to set the intention that it’s going to be a good day. Send them on a scavenger hunt to find as many good things in their day as they can. When they get home, help them to make a chart or poster where they can show all the good things that happen (store it for next year to remind them of what a good day they had).
Some other books and resources to help children keep a level head:
- The Lion Inside by Rachel Bright and Jim Field
- All About Feelings by Felicity Brooks and Frankie Allen, illustrated by Mar Ferrero
- Zog by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
- The Red Boat by Hannah Cumming
- Mindful Kids cards by Whitney Stewart and Mina Braun