Five tips to help your child ease back into school

Going back to school or starting for the first time can be stressful, but there are ways to help ease the transition.

Whether your child is starting school for the first time or returning after the long summer break, a degree of anxiety is not unusual. It can also be a stressful time for parents as well as we readjust to juggling work, education, and childcare schedules. 

Most specialists working with children agree that a certain amount of angst about going back or starting school can be normal and usually isn’t harmful. By helping kids cope with any stress they might be dealing with, parents can help prevent their child’s anxiety from escalating. 

“Children and young people can learn to develop coping strategies, problem solving skills and ways of seeing and understanding the world that will contribute to their wellbeing now and into the future,” say yourtown/Kids Helpline Head of Client Services Brendan Bourke.

Kids Helpline says children and young people reach out to them about a range of issues during the back-to-school period, with mental health, family relationships and emotional wellbeing the top three reasons they are contacted year round.

“[Kids Helpline @ School] is an early intervention and prevention education program for primary school students, covering topics that include bullying, resilience, friendships and good mental health” explains Brendan.

The program can help raise awareness of different pressures and ways to deal with them, and encourages help-seeking strategies at an early age. Parents can also foster this at home. 

These five tips can help minimise your child’s anxiety during what can be a challenging time.

1. Present school worries as normal, not exceptional

Showering your child with affection can validate his or her anxiety and may actually be counterproductive, says child psychologist and author Michael Carr-Gregg. Instead, he advises, “Simply listen to your child’s concerns. What is she or he worried about? And why does she or he expect that to happen? Once you know what’s bothering your child, you can start to develop a coping plan.”

2. Remember the basics

While identifying the immediate cause of your child’s anxiety is important, it’s also worth thinking about their overall health – especially after a period of less structured holiday time. 

“Ensure your child is eating regular meals and healthy snacks and has daily exercise,” advises Carr-Gregg. 

Getting enough sleep is also important: he recommends 10 hours a night during term time for primary-school students and nine hours a night for high-school students.

Having a routine set up can help to keep these things under control, like planning lunch the night before, suggests Kids Helpline.
Worried boy in car

3. Learn to recognise a more serious problem

It’s important to understand what constitutes ‘normal’ back-to-school anxiety so you know when to seek help when things escalate. Dr George Halasz, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, says parents should seek professional help if any of the following occurs:

  • Your child’s anxiety persists beyond a few weeks.
  • Your child’s condition is deteriorating.
  • Your child cannot go to school at all – the equivalent to an adult being unable to turn up to work.
  • There are signs of distress in addition to the anxiety, such as nightmares, poor sleep, loss of appetite, loss of energy and persistent sadness.

Encouraging children to talk about their feelings and reach out to a service like Kids Helpline if they don’t feel comfortable talking to you can make sure they’re getting the support they need.

4. Take advantage of technology

You may know Kids Helpline as a telephone service, which it is, but their free, private and confidential counselling service can also be accessed online for anyone aged 5 to 25 years old. Some apps can also help reduce stress in kids and young people. 

“The regular use of mindfulness apps like Smiling Mind can keep anxiety under control,” says Carr-Gregg. “Online, the free BRAVE program teaches children how to cope with anxiety. There are also two great apps from ReachOut Breathe, which helps to stop panic attacks, and ReachOut WorryTime.” 

5. Try to remain calm

Take time out for yourself. It can be an emotional time for parents, from the first teary drop off at the  primary school gates, to watching your child walk into their last first day in high school.  

Parents can be an example of positive behaviour for kids to follow. “Our best advice for parents at this time is to be excited. If you’re enthusiastic and confident, your children will be too” says Brendan.

So, as the holidays draw to a closeschool starts up, use these tips to help your child ease back into school.

Bupa is now the proud supporter of the Kids Helpline @ School program which aims to provide information and skills for kids in primary school to manage their mental health and reach out when they need it. Find out more about our new partnership here

Kids Helpline is available 24/7 for online counselling or by calling 1800 55 1800.

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