Coping with back to school anxiety

Published 23 Dec 2019

The start of a new school year or term can sometimes be a stressful or anxious time for children and young people. This can be heightened if the new term also means a new school. Some anxiety is perfectly normal, if you think about it most of us get jitters at the idea of stepping into a new situation, but there are some things that you can do to ease a child’s anxious thoughts (and yours).

Coping with back to school anxiety


Manage your own stress

Sending children back to school can be a stressful time for parents and carers. Reinstating routines, instigating wake up calls, preparing packed lunches, and laundering uniforms is hardly a relaxing experience, but it’s worth checking that your stress isn’t being passed on to the children living in your home.

Give yourself time to prepare.

Listen to their worries and concerns

It can sometimes be so easy to bat off worries about returning to school “it’s nothing to be worried about, you’ll be fine”, but if you think about it, school is a big part of any child’s life so if something changes there it could be a big deal to them.

Letting them talk about their fears not only provides a feeling of security, but also enables you to put measures in place to help assuage their anxiety. You can carry this on once they are back at school, playing question and answer games in the car or on the walk home. Questions could include ‘What was the best part of your day?’, ‘What did your friend have in their sandwiches?’, ‘What was the most difficult part of your day?’. You can also encourage them to ask you questions, which then opens up a two-way conversation.

Serious nerves? – put some strategies in place

If a child is having some serious nerves and worries about returning to school, you can try putting some coping strategies in place. This can include doing some test runs of their journey to school (this is particularly helpful if they are starting a new school), arranging hand-offs so a friend or trusted adult meets them at the school gate, or hug buttons. It’s also advisable to let the school know as there could be something that they can change that will reduce stress.

Try the Safe Harbour Technique

For children and young people who are showing serious signs of anxiety, the Safe Harbour Technique can also help them to address situations that make them feel uncomfortable. Encourage them to pick something that they like, for example the seaside or a sport they enjoy. Within that there will be somewhere that is safe, for example a harbour or the dugout at a sports stadium. That safe place can be their home or their room, the adults who care for them, things that make them feel calm. Within the image there will be other items or things, for example a sea scene will have boats and buoys. Those are other people who also make them feel calm or who can be trusted. Using this technique can be used not only if a child is feeling anxious about school, but also to cope with other difficult situations.

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