Back to school anxiety

September 15, 2022
Asifa Rapaiee

About the author: Ashleigh is the owner of AD Counselling & wellness and Elements Wellness Studio. She has worked as a therapist and wellness coach for around 7 years. She has a genuine passion for promoting healing, personal growth, self-discovery and recovery from within.

Going back to school after a summer off can be exciting for some children, for others it can be extremely anxiety inducing. It is human nature to resist change, however, change is an inevitable part of life. With any change there is uncertainty, with uncertainty there will be a level of anxiety, yes it can be said children can be very adaptable to change, but it can be overwhelming. 

Just think how anxious we can be going into new surroundings for the first time, starting a new class or a new job, we feel anxious right? Why do we expect our kids to just handle it? Yes, the school may be the same, but the kids are catching up with people they haven’t seen for a while, new classrooms, different teachers and perhaps a new school altogether, with that being said, it is extremely natural to feel a level of anxiety or worry. Parents feel the pain too, soothing an anxious child before the new school year can be extremely tough, leaving a crying child into school is a really hard thing to do.  So how can we manage it? For most kids the new school year anxiety will fade, however it is important to acknowledge the feelings when they surface and teach the child regulation techniques, such as box breathing, explained below.

Box breathing – a technique used to manage anxiety and support regulation

STEP 1:  Slowly Inhale through your mouth getting all your breath out of your lungs for the count of 4. Picture the top of a box as you do this.

STEP 2:  Exhale slowly through your nose to the count of four, picture the side of the box as you do this.

STEP 3: Inhale for 4, Hold your breath for the count of 4. Imagine the bottom of a box as you do.

STEP 4: Exhale again for the count of 4 expelling all air from your lungs and abdomen. Picture the box connecting to the top of the box.

Talk to your children about change, explain that it is natural to feel this way around change, perhaps share a story of a time you felt the same and how that turned out to be. Talk about a time they joined a new group or went somewhere different and had a good time. Allow the child to express themselves while fully holding space for the feelings, providing empathy and compassion. It can be helpful to send them into school with something small and comforting they can lean on should they need support, such as a comfort bracelet or affirmation card depending on age. This can reinforce attachment. Using these steps for yourself also a regulated parent can really soothe a dysregulated child.

Useful resources:

Myths about children’s mental health

Managing Families Wellbeing Through School Holidays

School anxiety and refusal

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