Are you unsure how your child will adapt going back to school and after school activities?
What does this look like for your family?

It’s come to that time, where we move out of lockdown and try to get back into some sort of ‘new normal’. Our children have been at home for months and months, so to them this is their new normal. So as a parent, how can you assist them to ‘change’ what they’re comfortable with, and transition them back to school calmly and confidently?

You may yourself be feeling a little worried, or unsure how they will react or cope on the first day back. It’s normal the morning before school starts that your child may appear as feeling unhappy. There may be tears, worry, or they may make excuses to get out of going, such as they have a sore stomach/headache, etc. You may even hear “I don’t want to go to school, can I stay home?”

Some children can worry themselves so much that they do feel ill, however as a parent if you let them stay home, you’ll find this could turn into repeated school refusal in the future. The long term affect will be a decrease in their academic development as well as their social confidence. If this persisted, they will fall further behind in class and it will be harder on you to guide them to reintegrate into their social groups and return to school.

anxious child separation anxiety

6 ways to prepare your anxious child for the return to school –

  • Talk about school – On the lead up, each day talk to your child about returning. Make sure that returning to school is not a surprise, and they are aware its coming up soon.
  • What did they enjoy the most at school? – Highlight the things that they previously enjoyed the most, and talk about the fun of doing this again with friends (e.g. playing soccer at lunch, art/crafts, seeing their friends at recess).
  • Routine is key – Remind them of the routine at school, plan it out so they know in advance (e.g. waking up at 7:30, eating breakfast and packing their bag, and leaving for school at 8:15, etc). Together with your child you could draw some steps of getting ready in the morning, and they can tick them off as they go.
  • Give them choice – Ask them what they’d like for lunch to help them feel like they have some control and can choose which they would enjoy more.
  • Open communication – If your anxious child seems worried about returning, create an open and accepting space for them to talk about their worries. It’s best not to wait until the night before school to do this. Make sure you validate what they feel, however don’t imply that they can stay home and not go to school.
  • The drop off process – if they become increasingly upset at drop off, acknowledge their emotion, give them a hug, guide them into school, and leave. The longer you stay the longer the distress will last. Teachers often report that a few minutes after the parents leave, the child settles.

Remember, the first few days will be the most challenging, however children become more and more adaptable as they grow and will see quickly what their new routine looks like. The key is to talk through things in advance, to ensure they have time to process the information, and to ensure they feel safe, calm and aware. Having an anxious child is challenging, but if you take the time to prepare them they will learn to see that change isn’t something to worry themselves about, and to look for the good in the change.

Written by Kya Porter – Psychologist –