Tips and Strategies for Managing Anxiety When Returning to School
During this time of uncertainty, your child may experience some anxiety, especially in regards to returning to school. Signs and symptoms of anxiety can be different for each person. They can be mild, moderate, or even severe. If you are concerned about your child’s anxiety, you should reach out to your child’s pediatrician right away.
Strategies for managing your child’s anxiety
- Acknowledge how your child is feeling; listen and validate their feelings. You don’t have to “fix,” their anxiety, but you can reassure your child that there are “tools,” that can help manage it.
- Make a list of the things your child is worrying about. If your child is young, write the list with them. If your child is older, encourage them to make their own list. Sometimes putting it on paper can make it feel less scary, and gives the child some control. Then, encourage your child to brainstorm possible solutions for their concerns. Share or model some strategies that help you.
- Get in touch with next year’s teacher/guidance counselor. Many schools share this information before the start of the school year. Have your child write a letter or email to them. As a parent, you can also reach out regarding some of the things your child is worried about. If necessary, schedule a phone conference with the teacher/guidance counselor to discuss strategies for the classroom.
- Have your child reach out to an older peer and ask them questions about what to expect in the upcoming grade.
- Have your child reach out to a younger peer and tell them what to expect. Being a helper is a great way to alleviate some of one’s own anxiety.
- Arrange a “meet and greet.” If allowed, contact the school/teacher and set up a time for your child to tour the classroom/school and meet the teacher before school starts.
- Contact the other kids in your child’s class. Once classroom assignments are known, encourage your child to connect with their future classmates.
- Establish routines to help maintain a set of normalcy and control: Pick a few simple things you can do on a regular basis and try to stick with it: eating dinner together around the same time; watching a family show together; reading a book before bed, etc. Routines can help offset some fears of the unknown.
- Come up with a “mantra,” or reaffirming statement with your child that they can use to challenge negative thoughts (ex: “these are just thoughts; I am ok.”)
- Identify some sensory activities that calm your child. (Taking a walk, coloring, listening to music, giving or receiving a tight hug, playing with playdough, etc.) Make a list and post it somewhere your child can see it. For younger children, you can draw a tool box. Then write these strategies onto pictures of tools. This is a great visualization for kids to see these strategies as “tools,” to help when needed.
- Use affirming phrases such as, “I hear you,” or “I can see that this is upsetting to you,” and remind your child that experiencing anxiety is ok, especially during a time when things feel out of routine.
- Be honest. You don’t have to share unnecessary details, but kids can often sense when adults are being honest. Answer with facts, and it’s ok to say you don’t have all the answers. Talking openly with your child can help them feel validated as well as give them a sense of control.