Transitioning from summer vacation to the school year can provoke anxiety for children. The shift from the relaxed and the less structured days of summer to the higher pressured school days can be a difficult leap. Furthermore, the separation from parents may cause worrying. For most students, the typical beginning of year anxiety will fade as they become more comfortable and master the routine.
Here are some tips to get back into the swing of things.
It can be scary for parents to place their child’s safety in someone else’s hands. If you are feeling very stressed about the separation or the pressures that come from a full calendar and heavy loads of homework, be sure you are not passing that stress on to your child.
Create goals around finding balance and not taking on more commitments than can be managed. Children take cues from the adults, so managing stress levels is important in helping children to be calm.
Parents often attempt to reassure children by saying “there is nothing to worry about.” Instead, consider listening to their concerns and help them brainstorm ways of managing their feelings and the challenging situations they confront. Validate their emotions and express your confidence in their ability to manage issues that may arise.
Do test runs to schools and visit classrooms. Walk your child’s schedule if you have access to it. Before school starts, practice routines such as waking up to an alarm and choosing an outfit the night before. Getting your children engaged in the preparation process can help them feel more in control. Practice goodbye routines. Role play what to do in difficult situations and how to calm down when feeling worried. For young children, consider using dolls to work out how to handle overwhelming feelings. It can feel safer to act out the feelings of others rather than confront their own anxiety and fears.
If you are very worried about your child’s ability to separate, reach out for help from a teacher, a school social worker, the school psychologist or an aide. Set up a plan, such as pairing your child with a buddy or assigning your child a job or task to keep her mind and body busy and engaged.
Talk about the fun activities in which your child will be involved. Remind him of his previous positive school experiences. Recall other times of doubt and nervousness when all turned out fine.
Research demonstrates that having a familiar peer present during transitions can help with adjustment. Set up activities with schoolmates during the summer.
Back to school anxiety can be normal. However, if the back to school worry is causing distress in your child’s day to day life, or your child does not adapt after a month’s time, it may be wise to seek counsel. Other red flags include not enjoying activities that once were considered fun, experiencing a heightened number of headaches or stomach aches, and excessive worry that something bad will happen to one’s parents. If you notice any of these red flags, or if the worries interfere with the ability to function in school, consider contacting a professional.
Graziella Simonetti is a parent educator for EAC Network’s Long Island Parenting Institute and works as an early childhood social worker for the New York City Department of Education. She holds an advanced certificate in parent education from Adelphi University and is a NYSPEP credentialed parenting educator.