Going back to school can be an exciting time for kids keen to see their friends and get on with their studies. It might mean a new school with new opportunities or even new fun teacher.
For many kids though this excitement might be overshadowed by nerves or worries about elements of going back to school they feel they can’t control.
We can help them help themselves by taking a 3-step approach to supporting our kids with their back-to-school blues.
Ask don’t presume
Most of us will have found school challenging, and we can easily project those issues onto our kids if we aren’t careful. Perhaps we struggled with friendships and worry our kids will experience that too, so we might quiz them on who they are going to sit with, or what they are going to play at playtime, and who their closest friend is. Your child may feel secure in their friendships, but your quizzing and focus could make them concerned.
Perhaps our issues were academic, so we hyperfocus on homework or prepping before class, when actually your child is finding schoolwork just fine. Check in with yourself and don’t just assume your child will struggle with the things you did.
Ask what they are looking forward to and listen to where their confidence lies and get excited with them. But ask them too if they have any worries they might like to talk over. Give them space to let it all spill out and make sure you leave time for them to explore and fully share, so not just before tea or an activity class. A 1:1 walk, or a drive can give them privacy and time to really open up.
Help them clarify their thoughts and feelings
Worries can feel all-consuming, and without clarifying exactly which aspects of back to school are making a child anxious, they can believe it is everything!
We can help them be specific about which aspects are concerning them and to give names to their feelings. This is much more useful than just assuring them that ‘everything will be fine’. If you listen to them carefully and help them explore their emotions, they will feel heard and supported.
Once they know exactly what the problem is and how they feel about it, their brain with calm down and they will be able to think more clearly about the issue. Psychologists call this ‘name it to tame it’ and it can help a child gain perspective and realise not everything is terrible.
Once a child is clear about what their worries are and how they feel, and know they have been heard and understood, do tell them rather than going over it again and again. It is much more helpful to look at problem solving.
Try asking them ‘what they need to succeed’. This will encourage them to think about solutions and think more positively.
They might suggest that they practise tying their new tie 20 x or have you drive them to school that first day. They might want to have a few playdates before school restarts or some extra help with reading.
They won’t always be able to problem solve their worry away, but they will almost always find something that can make things at least a little bit better.
Finding their own answers (with support) is empowering and helps a child feel stronger and more capable. Absolutely do step in and make suggestions and help them if they ask or need you to, but do encourage them to look for some solutions themselves.
Problem solving skills are skills for life and if kids learn to think positively and be solution-focused when challenges come along, rather than feel defeated, they will find life much easier.
Seeing a problem as a challenge to be overcome is called having a growth Mindset, rather than a fixed mindset, and it will help your child tremendously in life.
I hope back to school goes brilliantly for you all!
Check out my book Create Your Own Calm for lots of empowering tools to help your children face their fears and anxieties and develop their coping skills.
Author of the Create Your Own series, Be Happy Be You and A Year of Nature Craft and Play, Becky Goddard-Hill is a children's therapist and former social worker with a specialism in child development. She is also a professionally qualified life coach and member of the National Council of Psychotherapists.
Becky runs several award-winning blogs and loves to write about many things, most especially about wellbeing and emotional health. She believes passionately in supportive communities and the healing, nurturing powers of nature and creativity.