How to Ease Back to School Anxiety

By: Dr Justin Coulson

I’m sure there really are kids out there who are excited about heading back to school after the summer holidays. But I don’t know any of them.

If your kids are back at school, or about to be, these ideas can help ease the transition from holiday time to school time. 

Build Relationships

3 boys kicking a ball in a field.

One of the best predictors of children’s wellbeing at school is the quality of their relationships. Put simply, kids typically like school when they’ve got good friends there. In the lead up to school starting and in the first few weeks of school make an effort to get your kids involved with other children in the holidays, on the weekend, and after school. 

Last year all six of our children began new schools. We contacted the school and asked if they’d give our details to a few parents in our children’s classes so that they could form relationships ahead of school starting. Playdates before school commenced eased nerves and calmed fears. The kids were excited to see their new friends on Day One. 

(Side note: If they’re starting a new school, arrange a tour before school starts so they’re aware of where they’ll be each day. This can also reduce anxiety and make the school seem more familiar.) 

Get Routines Right

In my book,  21 Days to a Happier Family, I highlight the way that routines make life easier because we free up cognitive space. When we have a routine (and a checklist!), we don’t have to think. This means less anxiety and more efficiency. So focus on a morning, afternoon, and evening routine. 

Mornings should be built around waking up at the right time (or even a bit early), eating good food, preparing good food for the day, and leaving on time. 

Afternoons should be focused on rejuvenation and recovery from a long day. A bit of down time before extra-curricular activities, reading, or household chores (or homework for older kids) can go a long way to making the afternoon go well. 

Evenings should emphasise relationships and nurture, reduced screen-time, and plenty of sleep. We also want to get things ready for the morning. Prepping uniforms, shoes, lunchboxes and so on can make mornings magic, rather than mayhem. Remember, your morning starts the night before. 

Set Your Own Expectations Appropriately

child reading a picture book.

One of the biggest issues for children in school is parent expectations. The increasing demands on students from well-meaning parents who want their kids to be A-students is often detrimental. Children are expected to do more “learning” and less playing at younger and younger ages. We submit them to all manner of tests, NAPLAN being the most famous, and apply pressure with ever-increasing expectations. 

If your kids are in primary school, consider dropping homework from your schedule entirely. Research evidence indicates it doesn’t help, and often hinders, learning. Instead, encourage reading, and read with your kids. Make it stuff they  want  to read. 

Pull your kids out of NAPLAN. It’s allowed. If you choose not to go that far, let them know you aren’t bothered at all by what they score. Let them know it’s really a thing for the government and their school. And make sure the school isn’t putting any pressure on the kids (or practicing for the test, or restricting play time or art/drama/music/sport time because of the test). 

Finally, consider the amount of extra-curricular activities they’re involved in. Childhood is certainly about development, learning, and extending talents and abilities. But it’s also about play, freedom, and being allowed to be little. 

About 7% of Aussie kids aged 4-17 years experience anxiety disorders each year. School can be a major contributor. By building strong relationships with peers and school staff, establishing calm, clear, predictable routines at home, and emphasising fair expectations that suit your child and his or her temperament, anxiety can be reduced, and going back to school can be easier for everyone. 

Article supplied with thanks to Happy Families.

About the Author: A sought after public speaker and author, and former radio broadcaster, Justin has a psychology degree from the University of Queensland and a PhD in psychology from the University of Wollongong.

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