Fall is a season of new beginnings for the whole family, especially for school-aged children gearing up for new classes, new teachers and new friends. While most children are excited to meet up with their classmates after a long summer of fun, many kids experience fears and anxiety as each new school year begins. The list of worries goes on and on: Fears of not being able to read fast enough, who they may sit next to at lunch and where they fall on the social ladder. As children are slowly settling into September, it’s common for silent back-to-school fears to start to unravel, leaving parents confused with feelings of inadequacy.
Kids may not demonstrate their back-to-school anxiety openly, but that does not mean their fears should not be discussed. How children cope with back-to-school fear and stress greatly determines their success for the rest of the school year – maybe even their overall pursuit of education. Don’t let your child slip through the cracks with strong feelings of anxiety and fear at the start of the new year, even if the semester has already begun. Parents can significantly impact their kids’ lives, changing their school status from emotionally coasting through the new year to thriving with other students.
Start by making your home a safe, organized and inviting space. One way to help children ease into the semester by confronting their anxiety is to help them feel a sense of security and control at home. Help organize a space for your son or daughter to get ready for the transition, whether it’s room for a school lunch assembly line or a comfortable, non-threatening homework area to relieve stress while he or she learns. Setting up an inviting homework area should involve plenty of supplies on hand, an oasis from distractions like TV and clutter and ample lighting to inspire your son or daughter to work comfortably. Focus on relieving your child’s stress after school by catering to his or her needs, bringing snacks and keeping the area organized.
Build consistent routines. One of the reasons kids develop back-to-school anxiety is a fear of the unknown. They do not know what to expect, especially young children going into kindergarten or first grade. It’s common for them to feel this way, but sometimes, kids can experience anxieties even after a few weeks in their new classroom. Getting used to this new place takes time, and you can help them adjust by assisting them in creating consistent routines in the mornings and evenings. The more familiar they are with morning routines leading up to school, the more acclimated they will become to their unfamiliar surroundings.
Make breakfast count: To smooth out the back-to-school road for an easy first few weeks, strive to plan out breakfast meals, at least a few days ahead. Keep nutrition in mind, but also plan fast breakfast meals for those first hectic weeks. Giving yourself some slack in the beginning of the school year is important. Kids can pick up on your own anxiety, so make sure you are doing everything you can to make mornings easier and faster, starting with breakfast. Some parents even benefit from laying out the breakfast cereal bowls and spoons or making lunches the night before. If you have a longer drive to school, consider making breakfast burritos they can grab on-the-go.
Designate a time to communicate: Every child is different and so are the rules of parenting. Some children – in the midst of struggle and anxiety – will want to barge in the house, fling their book-bags on the floor and run into the arms of a compassionate parent. Others do not display signs of anxiety at all, and many are prone to bottling up their emotions – especially when Mom and Dad are not accessible. Make yourself flexible and approachable for vital conversation, but also understand that your child may not come to you organically and directly. Set aside time, at least in the beginning of the school year, to have “family time” or down time where you spend an hour or two together. Whether it’s reading, walking or any other activity, make it clear to your child that this is a time where you ask each other intentional questions and form dialogue. Try to make this time as exciting and welcoming as possible.
Safe Harbor Christian Counseling is passionate about helping parents reach out to their children in effective ways, meeting their needs and helping them with their struggles. We acknowledge the challenges of parenting and that every child and situation is unique. To provide parents with hope, Safe Harbor extends child and adolescent counseling services and adult counseling services to point individuals toward family therapy or to work through various other issues. Safe Harbor aims to serve as a beacon of hope in the midst of difficult situations, helping parents and children discover their true purpose and worth.
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