School Anxiety:  6 Tips for Helping Your Child Start a New School Year

A new school year brings conflicting emotions for most children – as it does for us parents!  This year will be particularly stressful because, although ostensibly schools will be open come September, the possibility of a second wave of COVID-19 has thrown a shadow of doubt over the forthcoming academic year.

Notwithstanding this, whether it is your child’s first year in Primary or, like Ieuan, their transition from primary to secondary school, they are probably experiencing a mix of both excitement and anxiety about what lies ahead.  It is a little easier for Ieuan than it was for Caitlin, as at least he has a sibling ready to greet him in his new school but even so, it is a daunting time – for all of us!

Overcoming these feelings isn’t always easy, but it can be done by following some simple guidelines for both parents and their children.

While there may not be a blanket set of rules to follow, the following are some tips that parents can use to have a more successful school year, regardless of how old a student is:

Familiarize Your Child With the Situation

  • Talk with your child about school, no matter his or her grade level. This can help curtail some of this anxiety.  Discuss such things as what subjects he or she will be taking, and who the teacher will be.  In addition, answer any questions that your child may have.
  • Share personal experiences with him or her. A child will be much more excited and comfortable if they understand that his or her parents “survived” school too.
  • Call the principal or other school staff to arrange a personal visit to the school, if possible. Try to meet one or more of the student’s teachers, who can provide a connection should he or she need one in the first few days. You will both also want to take a look around and see where the child’s classroom(s) will be, and so on.  If you are unable to get inside the building, even just a visit to the building’s grounds can be helpful.

Establish a Routine

One of the major reasons children have trouble with and in school is the lack of a set routine, and failing to enforce such a routine causes unnecessary stress for the parents and the child.

  • Parents need to create a back-to-school schedule with the child. Start this new schedule at least a couple of weeks before school starts.  Having a firm agenda to practice beforehand will alleviate problems of adjustment once school starts.
  • For example, aim for a set time of going to bed and getting up and generally consistent times for meals, baths and other daily actions your child is expected to perform.

Make Going Back to School a Fun-Filled Experience 

  • Go shopping for school supplies and new school clothing together. Having new clothing for the first day of school can increase the child’s self-confidence, and make the first day more exciting.
  • To make the shopping experience even more fun, make it an all-day event with a lunch date included. 

Set Up the Child’s Environment for Homework

  • Set up a space in the home that is comfortable, quiet, and has all the supplies the child may need.
  • Also, since younger children tend to follow a parent’s lead, “study” along with the child. Find a book to read, a craft to make, or some other activity to do that helps the student feel less isolated.  As a child gets older, study habits change, and he or she may elect to study independently of others.  Just keep in touch with how he or she is progressing.

Teach Your Child Organization Skills

  • Another key element to reducing school anxiety is being organized, especially as a student’s work becomes more plentiful and difficult. Encourage the student to keep a calendar or agenda of assignments and projects, and their due dates.  Ensure that the child has the supplies and resources that he or she needs to complete any projects.

Get Involved 

  • Volunteer as a classroom helper, a tutor, or a chaperone for school outings. You may also want to volunteer for the parent advisory council.  When a child sees his or her parents helping with school activities and providing input, the student feels more secure, more a part of the school – the whole experience becomes a “family thing.”
  • In addition, when parents invest time and talent in a child’s school, communication with the child’s teacher and the school staff is strengthened and more open, which simplifies working through difficult times if such situations arise. The more a parent is involved with a child’s school, the more settled a student may be.

Children are resilient, but there are times when new situations might be more than they are prepared to handle.  A new school year can be such a challenge, so parents must be aware of the possible signals of school anxiety, especially as the first day of school approaches.  Reacting to these signals is paramount to whether the year begins in a positive and controlled way, or in a negative manner.  Employing some or all of the above tips is a good way to start a new school year.

It’s also good to remember that your child’s education is a partnership between you, your child and their teacher.  Sometimes we think that education means just handing the child over for the school to ‘do their bit’ but research shows that academic performance is vastly improved where parents take an active role in teaching their children.

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