Guest post by Cindi Reynolds
“My child is anxious about going back to school.”
“The first day of kindergarten is next week. I don’t know who’s more worried—me or my five year old!”
As an elementary school counselor, I hear these concerns every time the start of the new school year approaches. And as a mom, I can certainly understand the apprehension that both parents and students feel about the transition back to school.
My job is to help children and their families navigate these concerns. Here are some things to consider when you start to hear your little one voice fears about the upcoming school year. Many of these tips can help you calm your parental anxiety as well.
I find that kids’ anxiety about going back to school often stem from two possible causes:
- Worrying about situations beyond their control.
- Situations for which they have questions, but no answers.
In both cases, it’s important to help children be problems-solvers and discover solutions to their life challenges. A strategy I often find helpful is to teach children to answer their own questions. As well intentioned adults we are tempted to provide immediate answers as a way to help kids. Instead of offering immediate assistance, remind yourself that children will build mental resilience and self confidence if we coach them to answer the question themselves.
For situations beyond a child’s control such as a parent’s divorce, a grandparent’s illness, the start to a new school year, or an upcoming move, the key is to have them focus on what they can control about a given situation. Say, “Now that Daddy and I are living in different houses, let’s make a plan together for what each day of the week will look like.” This gives the child ownership in a circumstance that is largely out of her control.
Another thing kids fret about is situations they don’t have the answer to. We need to help them with this. For instance, if your child asks, “What if my friend isn’t in my class?” repeat the question back to him and have him answer it. Perhaps the concern is, “What if I get on the wrong bus?” or “What if I forget the lyrics during the school musical?” Have him come up with solutions or ways to respond to this question. If he cannot do it, give him some multiple choice answers to get him going (I find that a little sense of humor helps too.) Usually the answer to the question is not as scary as he thought. If it is a more serious concern, it gives them something they CAN do. It empowers children to help themselves.
One last thought: letting an anxious child stay home from school only makes the problem worse. Whatever it takes, get your child to school. Inform the teacher or school counselor so that he / she is aware and can be of help. Make your goodbye brief and let the school professionals take it from there. Most of the time, the child is fine within a few minutes, often before a parent has left the parking lot. Keep in mind that in helping your child overcome school anxiety, you are also helping her develop skills to last a lifetime.
About the author: Cindi Reynolds is currently an elementary school counselor working with children grades K- 6 in Grand Rapids, MI. She is an experienced elementary teacher having taught in San Antonio, TX, Lake Forest, IL, Plano, TX, Las Vegas, NV and Grand Rapids, MI. She and her husband have one teenage daughter. Cindi loves helping children learn to be strong, kind, and respectful people.