Back to School anxiety

Returning to school can be a stressful experience for children at the best of times but going back to school after an extended lockdown can cause extra anxiety. Although many children and parents are looking forward to the return of school, managing the anxiety that may result is also important.

After an extended period of doing school from home, stepping back into the school routine may be exciting for many, but children who struggle with transitions often take longer to process the changes. For children with autism spectrum disorder or those who are generally anxious, this may be a challenging time for them and their parents.

5 tips to prepare for a smooth transition after lockdown:

Back to school visual countdown

Whether your lockdown has been a few days, weeks or months, the re-entry transition to school can start as soon as you know the date. Communicating the passage of time and when school will be returning with your child is important.

Create a whiteboard or calendar and place it in the house where everyone can see it. Mark today’s date and mark the date for back to school with a symbol, clipart image or a photo of your child’s school on the date.

Kids love to see things visually and by helping them create a calendar of what’s coming up, you can help them to feel calmer and less anxious.

Back to school daily routines… hacks to make the transition easier

As soon as you can, or at least a week before school starts, reinstate the “normal school routine”. This is especially important for waking and bedtimes. Recalibrating your child’s circadian rhythms are so important when it comes to having happier kids who can adjust to routines and changes.

During lockdowns, because we don’t have to get up at certain times, families often change their waking and bedtime routines. Think back to what bedtime and waking times worked for you for the school routine before lockdown, and gradually work your way back to those same routines or go cold turkey… whatever works for you!

As always recommended, reduce the use of screen time and blue light for 2 hours before bedtime to encourage natural melatonin production, and create a regular and safe bedtime routine. Including a bath or shower is helpful if you can, to assist their bodies to wind down.

Be mindful of your own anxiety

Going back to school and living with Covid is a new anxiety to navigate for both parents and children. As a parent, you might be quite anxious about the risk of your child contracting the virus. This is a natural response, so give yourself some grace. It’s to be expected.

Be mindful though, that children seem to be super aware of our anxieties. Monitor how much news you watch with and without your child. Keep up to date, yes, but avoid excessive exposure to news that may create feelings of depression or anxiety in yourself or your child. Instead, focus on your family’s needs and on self-care.

Understanding your child’s anxiety

Be mindful of the ways that children reach out for help and might show their anxiety. There are many “negative behaviours” that children might show which are clues that they are worried and anxious. With Covid, children are aware of what’s happening and can get concerned that they or their parents might get sick and pass away. These are very real concerns and deserve attention and empathy.

Some signs of anxiety might include children saying things such as “please don’t make me”, or “I don’t want to go to school”, “I want to stay home”, “I don’t want to, I’m tired”, “I feel sick”, or pulling their hair (twirling or pulling hair out). Life Skills 4 kids has useful information on signs of anxiety.

The After-School Meltdown

I know this is hard to hear, but afternoons are going to be tough as your child transitions back to school. In normal times, many children keep their emotions in check while at school, holding it together until they get home. Once in the safety of home, these underlying anxious emotions come tumbling out, sometimes as a meltdown.

In a pandemic, this is going to be exacerbated. This is totally normal and OK.

Expect it… do some self-care for yourself during the day, even if it’s just taking 10 mins to ground yourself with a quiet cup of tea or a stretch before they get home.  

Be there for your children. Try to schedule your day so you can be available physically and emotionally for the evening routine.

Get outside in the sunshine and fresh air with your children. Walking and talking is a great way to debrief after a day of transition back to school.

You’ve got this! Trust your parent instinct, choose one of these suggestions to start with, and be there for your child during this challenging yet rewarding time.

Written by

Deb Hopper

Deb is a paediatric occupational therapist with 20+ years’ experience. Her passion is to empower OTs and educators to demystify kids’ behaviour by providing easy-to-implement, hands-on strategies to transform struggling families and kids’ lives so they can thrive. Find out more about Deb here.

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