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It’s the first day of school. You are sitting in the driver’s seat with your child telling them everything is going to be OK, but nothing you say seems to get through to them. You can’t stay home from school, you tell them. You have to go inside.
Eventually, tears in their eyes, they open the door and slowly walk away from you as they meander toward the school entrance. It breaks your heart to turn them away like that, but what other choice do you have?
If your child has anxiety, you’ve either been in that situation or one extremely close to it. Childhood anxiety can create crippling fear of typically ordinary situations. While other kids may look at the new school year and get excited about picking out school supplies, seeing their friends, and starting lessons, children with anxiety see it as a large unknown where there is potential for anything and everything bad to happen.
You can’t eliminate anxiety in adolescence, but you can teach them how to manage it. First of all, don’t avoid places and events that trigger your child’s anxiety. Allowing them to avoid these things only empowers their fears. You can’t promise nothing bad will happen -- tests can be flunked, accidents happen, and kids can certainly be mean -- but you can assure your child that you are confident in their abilities to make it through it all OK. You can also help your kid think through difficult situations that cause anxiety as a way to model healthy coping mechanisms.
When back-to-school time rolls around, use the following planning and organizational tips as ways to set your child up for success and reduce their feelings of school-related anxiety.
Establish a Positive Morning Routine
Getting back on their school-time sleep schedule is a big part of easing your kids back into school. Not only does it ensure they show up on the first day bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but it also helps shift their mindset out of summer mode and back into academic mode. A well-rested brain is a less anxious brain. Jumpstarting a good sleep schedule helps your child mentally prepare for the stress of school and academia. Now is also a good time to get back into a positive morning routine. Routines and schedules are soothing for children; they know what to expect. Adding that little bit of security to your child’s day can give them the strength they need to take on the challenge that is school.
How to Cope with a Heavy Workload
There are many reasons why a child may feel anxious about going back to school, but academic anxiety may be the most common one. While some kids may get academic anxiety as a result of poor test scores or a learning disability, others may feel stressed out by the extreme workload some schools provide and the pressure they feel to complete everything. Whatever the reason behind your child’s anxiety, it helps to spend some time going over any summer reading or assignments they had to do over the break.
Set up a designated spot in the house where they can study and do homework and go ahead and work in a “study hour” when they’ll be doing work once school is in. Even though they don’t have homework at this point, encourage them to read or do math puzzles during this time to wake up the brain.
Older children may benefit from their own laptop they can use to help organize their work digitally. Some high schools are even requiring teens to use laptops in lessons, so teaching them how to use one can help prepare them for that eventuality. Furthermore, while it’s not OK to bribe a child, it is recommended to stoke their excitement for academics with a shiny new tool they can use. Just be sure your parameters and rules are clear and you can monitor their online activity. Not every laptop is created equal, so do your research to find the best kid-friendly laptop on the market.
It’s painful watching your child go through an anxiety attack, but you can’t allow them to avoid school because of it-- that only empowers their fear. You can help them manage their anxiety by giving them tools they can use to feel prepared and mindful. Getting your child back on a morning and homework routine as soon as possible will make it easier for them to transition back into the stressful environment that is school.