We all want our kids to feel confident about going back to school. We want them to feel secure and positive about their friendships, their new teachers, and their ability to cope with and enjoy their schoolwork.
Realistically though many children don’t feel such confidence. Instead, they might feel anxious about seeing their peers again after a long summer break. Perhaps they are worried their new teacher will be strict and maybe they have concerns that they won’t be able to keep up with their studies. Some children might be facing exams for the first time, others might feel nervous about aspects of PE or the fact they are starting a new school. Unaddressed worries can become overwhelming, causing anxiety and unhappiness that affects your child’s whole summer.
What can you do to help?
Whilst it might feel helpful to play down back to school worries this may well be counterproductive. No one ever stopped worrying just because someone told them to. Telling children their worries aren’t valid usually leads to them bottling them up and unexpressed worries simply grow.
Name it to tame it.
Encouraging your child to tell you their concerns helps them make sense of what they are thinking and feeling. Rather than vague nervousness about returning to school naming what is on their mind creates a defined issue that is then easier to address. ‘Name it to tame it’ works and it is an important concept for your child to grasp and one that will help them throughout their emotional life.
Getting a child to open up isn’t always easy. 1:1 time spent baking, driving, walking, crafting can provide you with opportunities to ask gentle questions about how they feel. Sharing some of your own experiences of back to school worries might help them open up too. It is always best to introduce the subject when you have time and space to really hear them and won’t get distracted.
Remind your child of their past successes!
If your child tells you they are worried about workload remind them how they have coped in the past, how they once couldn’t read or write but now take that in their stride. Remind them how they have improved their spelling, how they did well on a past test.
If they worry about making new friends, remind them how every friend they have ever had was new once. Encouraging your child to remember and find evidence of their great capacity to cope and adapt is a simple way to boost their confidence.
Help them move from being a problem dweller to a problem solver.
Just by giving them your time and attention and letting them know you have heard and understand will help your child feel less alone and more supported. Dwelling on a problem can increase its size so it is helpful to move swiftly on to problem solving after offering comfort, encouraging your child to take an active part.
‘What could help?’ is a great question to ask your child if they say they feel unconfident. This way they take ownership of the issue and will be more invested in possible solutions.
Try writing their worries up as challenges and get working together on some actionable solutions.
- If they are worried about wearing a tie, they could practice taking it on and off every evening for a week
- If they are unconfident about the walk to school, they could draw the route then time walking it
- If they are concerned about friendships, they could role-play introducing themselves to someone new
No matter what the issue, there is always something you can do that will boost their confidence. And, even if it doesn’t completely eke out the worry, it will minimise it.
Confidence comes from taking action – it doesn’t just appear by magic, and this is a great lesson for kids to learn.
Fear of the unknown
Fear of the unknown can also impact confidence. By removing as many of the unknowns as possible your child will less unsure. Lots of areas can be worked through in advance:
- Prepping and trying on uniform
- Choosing a water bottle
- Knowing what to do if they lose their key.
- Figuring out the school layout
- Running through the school day
- Planning who to walk to school with
Contingency plans, routines and being prepared all invoke a feeling of confidence and are well worth investing time in.
Feeling unconfident about going back to school is a common experience. If we were starting a new job, we’d probably have many similar feelings. By taking your child’s worries seriously, encouraging them to stay solution-focussed and take action you will see their confidence begin to emerge
Author of the Create Your Own series, the Be You series 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.