Students all over the country are heading back to school after what was, for many, the strangest year of their lives. Any given September, a little back to school anxiety is to be expected. Over the course of that first week back in school, everything from putting on a uniform to entering the cafeteria can feel a little overwhelming; after six weeks off, even holding a pen can feel alien! And after a year of lockdowns and remote learning, for many students that feeling is bound to be stronger than ever.
So: what do you do if you’ve noticed your son or daughter is experiencing school anxiety this year? Although it’s undeniable that school is going to look somewhat different this year following the pandemic, with a few small changes you can help calm those feelings of worry.
How do you spot if your son or daughter is experiencing school anxiety?
Children may find it difficult to articulate exactly how they’re feeling when it comes to worries about school; they may not even know what it is they’re feeling. If they’re staying quiet, being avoidant, and not acting in their usual manner, it’s likely something’s up.
In order to avoid them closing up or dodging the question, it’s best not to be too on-the-nose when asking them about their worries. Instead of saying something like ‘are you anxious about going back to school?’, try opening up a broader conversation, with questions like ‘how are you feeling about going back to school?’
Children can feel anxious over returning to school for any number of reasons: a change in environment, a desire to fit in, separation anxiety, getting used to a new teacher, or even feeling overstimulated in a school environment after a long summer spent relaxing.
You can approach the subject in a gentle manner by speaking of your own experiences during your school days. Mention in passing that you used to feel a little worried in your first days back, and that it’s totally normal. With a little luck, your son or daughter will take this as an opportunity to open up and share how they’re feeling.
How to help your child deal with back to school anxiety
Explain what will be new about school this year
If your child or teenager is anxious about the new term, it’s best to minimise any shocks or surprises in store. Every school across the country will look a little bit different this year, whether it’s COVID measures put in place in the cafeteria and library, a need to sanitise hands between classes, or one-way systems in the corridors. If your child or teen’s back to school anxiety is tied to COVID, explaining these measures ahead of time will help to ease their concerns.
There are some positive changes to school, too. Teacher-parent communication is more fluid than ever, and the annual parent’s evening meeting is no longer the only time conversations can be opened up. In many schools across the country, apps are now being used to allow frequent, detailed communication between teachers and parents, meaning any concerns or struggles students face won’t go under the radar, and can be addressed properly.
Help them boost their confidence through extra-curricular activities
There are limitless possibilities for extra-curricular activities, and almost all of them will help your child deal with back to school anxiety. Army Cadets is one such activity: through getting young people outdoors and providing them with purpose and structure, the Army Cadets can help instill them with a new confidence and discipline that will propel them through their school years – and beyond!
Even better, while acquiring this confidence, your child will take part in all kinds of exciting and practical activities, such as fieldcraft, adventure training, first aid, music, and sport. The sense of self-reliance and confidence Army Cadets gives to young people can’t be overstated, nor can its effect on their happiness!
Ease them into it gradually
You can help your child avoid anxious feelings by easing them into the process of going back to school, so it’s less of a severe change. A couple of days before they’re due to go back, begin to introduce a simple routine to re-familiarise them with the concept of more structured days. By the time they head back to their first classes, the rigidity won’t seem so great a change.
Other tactics to gently familiarise an anxious child with their school include walking past the building, driving past it whenever possible, and even speaking one-to-one with teachers on video call ahead of classes starting. As well as helping your child to feel familiar once again with their school, these encounters should help you to gauge just how nervous your child actually is about returning.
Manage your own stress
This might sound like an odd piece of advice, but children (and teenagers) will be able to tell if you yourself are stressed or concerned about the school year beginning, and your attitude towards it will inform their own. Therefore, it’s important to be visibly relaxed and positive about the start of term. Let them know it’s okay to feel anxious sometimes, and explain how you deal with your own feelings of worry when they arise.
Arrange meet-ups with their friends beforehand
Your child or teenager may well take care of this one themselves. However, if not, consider arranging a chance for them to spend time with their friends outside school ahead of returning. This can help them to feel stable (as well as putting you more at ease), because they’ll have a supportive group of pals to spend their days with. The anticipation of being with friends every day may well outweigh any anxieties your child is feeling over returning to the classroom.
The bottom line on back to school anxiety
A small amount of back to school anxiety is perfectly normal – particularly after a couple of years as troublesome as 2020/21. If your child is experiencing these feelings to a degree that it changes their behaviour however, it’s important to address this. Easing back into the school routine and relying on the comfort of friends are excellent ways to help reduce the worries around returning to school.
And of course, if you think your young one might benefit from getting a little fresh air, meeting new friends, and learning practical skills to last them a lifetime, the Army Cadets is always an excellent choice.