As the summer holidays draw to a close, it may not be the lack of sunshine that is in the forefront of many parents’ minds. After such a long break from the normal routine of attending school, many children can find the prospect of returning to school very daunting. There are lots of things to think about, such as, what will my new school be like, will I make some new friends, will my lessons be hard, will I be left out? These sorts of concerns can cause a great deal of anxiety.
Parents can also dread the start of the new term, if they anticipate their child will experience anxiety and distress. Fortunately for most children, once over the hurdle of getting through the school gates, the excitement of new friends, teachers and subjects takes over and they quickly settle down and enjoy the familiarity of school routines.
However, this is not always the case, as for some children, the anxiety can persist past the school gate, leading to psychosomatic symptoms or acting out behaviours. These can include feeling ill in the mornings and sleep problems, and if the anxiety problems are not resolved, the child may refuse to attend school.
To prevent an outright refusal to go to school, it is helpful for parents to talk with their child about their worries so they feel safe and secure. It is important to talk about school in a light and fun way, encouraging the child to talk about their thoughts and feelings, so any issues can be resolved quickly.
There are some simple but effective ways of allaying their anxiety such as:
- When dropping children at school, parents should smile, hug, kiss and wave goodbye. It is important to create a light and positive atmosphere, so the child picks up on this instead of anxiety.
- When shopping for school supplies, take the opportunity to chat about school in a healthy, relaxed and fun way.
- Make sure there is enough time in the morning to get your child to school in a calm fashion without rushing and shouting.
- Let younger children know in advance what is happening. Nobody likes the unknown and the anxious child struggles with it even more so. Surprises can be very hard to cope with when you are already in a state of anxiety.
- Try to meet at the school gate with a fellow student so the child has company.
- With a younger child, ensure they know where to look for you at the end of the day and make sure you are not late.
As we said earlier, most children quickly settle back to school without any major problems, but a child who becomes very withdrawn or experiences loss of appetite and lethargy may be experiencing depression. Any dramatic change in mood and behaviour, that does not seem to be diminishing as the term progresses, should be seen as a sign and it may be necessary to seek advice from a professional.