How I deal with 'back to school anxiety'
I remember my sons first day at preschool two years ago. He was so excited, he couldn’t wait to get there and meet new friends. We’d roll up at the gate and he’d run towards the classroom door forgetting to say goodbye. I was an emotional wreck! My little boy was growing up too fast and I didn’t feel ready to let him go. After all, we’d spent 3 years with no longer than an hour or two apart.
Roll on two years, my boy is now in year one! Where did the time go? But this time it’s a different story. He’d spent reception settling into his new school pretty well, he’d made some lovely friends and enjoyed most days. He’d come home and couldn’t wait to tell us about his day. Year one and he has completely changed. The past two weeks has been the same. This morning he woke up, came into my room for a cuddle like he does every morning. I made his favourite breakfast, Cheerios with raspberry and yoghurt crisp. He wolfs that down while watching PJ Masks, his favourite kids program. The routine is always the same and he is very happy cooperating. Uniform goes on, socks and shoes go on, no problems! He puts his coat on while I get the baby in her push chair and we leave the house with smiles and laughs.
So now we’re 5 minutes down the road and suddenly my little boys smiles turn into frowns. I ask him, “what’s the matter?” I get nothing. Like talking to a brick wall. I try to cheer him up and get him excited about the day ahead. I get nothing! I decide to keep talking, keep it positive. As we arrive at the school gates my little man pulls on my arm, I turn to look at him and he lowers his head. A little tear rolls down his cheek and he says quietly, “Mummy I want to stay with you today!” My heart sinks as we walk through the school gates. We approach his classroom and his teacher is standing by the door ready to greet him. He’s pulling on my arm a little stronger now so I stop with him by the door, get down to his level and ask him what he’s upset about. Once again he tells me he wants to stay at home with me. I feel like breaking down into tears. I’m frustrated as I have so much to get on with at home but I still want to wrap him in my arms and take him home. I know I cannot do that so I’m calmly trying to reassure him that he will have a good day.
I’m not the only parent who has gone through this and I’m sure so many mothers have gone home and had a little cry. I had a little cry walking out of the school, the head teacher caught me and said she’d call to reassure me he’s fine. The minute I walked through my door I had a phone call from the school. He was fine! He went into his classroom and was his usual happy self!
My little boy has done this every day for the past two weeks! We try to stick with the same routine and keep everything as positive as possible.
A few tips I have found online which I have found to be slowly helping my son settle back into the school environment:
· Get back into the school-day routine at least a week early – waking up, eating and going to bed at regular times.
· Get your child involved in planning out their lunches and snacks for the first week back.
· For anxious kids, plenty of detail can be calming. Talk through the steps of getting to their classroom: "And then we hang up our bag on our hook; we say hi to our friends; we find our seat...etc"
· Stick to familiar routines as much as possible. Try to have a calm evening and allow more time to settle before bedtime if your child is feeling excited or nervous about school.
· Help your child pack their bag the night before. A visual checklist can help them remember what they need to take. Lay out their clothes so everything’s ready for the morning.
· Allow some extra time to get ready on day one so you’re not rushing.
You can find more information on these tips at https://healthyfamilies.beyondblue.org.au/age-6-12/mental-health-conditions-in-children/anxiety/tackling-back-to-school-anxiety
I am finding being as positive as possible and PATIENT is helping my son with his fears of going back to school. Never push your child to be a certain way, they will regress not progress. Let them lead but guide them gently. NEVER shout, show them lots of love and let them know that it’s ok to feel like this.
These phases don’t last long. I remember feeling like this as a child and I think this has helped me understand what my son may be going through. Try and think about what they must be feeling, what might be going through their minds. The more we try to understand our children and their emotions, the easier it will be for us to handle them.
They’re not little for long. I know you love them. Show them you love them. <3