How to help your child ease back-to-school anxiety



Estimated Reading Time 3 Minutes

Emotions run high for both parent and
child on the first day of school. While
you may feel nostalgic watching your
little one strap on his backpack, you’re
also excited about his starting a new
and important life phase. Children,
too, can feel anxious about entering a
new environment. Your parting words
can make the start of school a smooth
tradition or a complete disaster.

Don’t say: Don’t worry

Although your first instinct may be
to reassure your child at the mention
of every fear, Sarah Chana Radcliffe,
Toronto psychologist and author of
The Fear Fix, says dismissing emotions
leaves the child stuck with their fears.

Do say: I know you’re scared and
that’s ok

Acknowledge the emotion by repeating
it, assuring them that it’s a normal
feeling and that it won’t last forever.
This can allow nervous children to
process their fears faster.

Don’t say: I’ll stay as long as you
want

Jennifer Brown, kindergarten teacher
at Toronto’s Silverthorn Community
School, says letting your child think
you’ll stay only prolongs the inevitable
separation. “There’s a transference of
who they turn to for their needs and
comfort and that doesn’t happen if mom
and dad are still there,” says Jennifer.

Do say: I’m going home and I’ll
meet you outside at 3:30

Simply saying “I’m leaving” can worsen
separation anxiety. Sarah recommends
talking about what you’re going to do
while your child is at school. “Knowing
your activities helps ground them and
allows them to still feel connected to
you,” she says. Pointing out a tree or a
fence post where you’ll be waiting for
them at the end of the day can also help
to calm their anxiety and gives finality
to the day.

Don’t say: I missed you

“In many cases, the first separation can
be harder on the parent than the child,”
says Sarah. Even if you did miss your
child, sharing how sad the separation
made you feel will burden your child
with guilt and makes it more difficult to
enjoy school.

Do say: Tell me about your day

Creating a ritual to share stories about
your day can make going to school seem
fun and exciting.

Don’t say: Why are you still upset?

Don’t worry that something is wrong
with your child if they take longer than
others to adjust. Brown says it isn’t
uncommon for kids to take a month or
two to get over separation anxiety. If
your child is still struggling after two
months, it may be time to get some
professional help.

Do say: I know this has been
difficult, but it will be ok

Talking about school in a positive way
and reinforcing the idea that school is
important and fun can help ease the
transition. “They’ve got a lot of school
ahead of them so you want those initial
years to be positive,” says Jennifer.

The anxious body

The start of school
is bound to
cause butterflies
to swirl in the
tummy of both
parent and child.
Physical reactions
to anticipatory
anxiety are
normal, says
psychologist Sarah
Chana Radcliffe.
If anxiety persists,
consider these
natural remedies in
consultation with
your healthcare
provider.

Chamomile tea: This child-friendly
herbal beverage can
be sipped before
bed to help calm
mild nervousness.

Yoga: Children can benefit
from yoga because it
helps them practise
relaxation techniques
such as breathing
and meditation,
which come in handy
in anxious situations
or at bedtime.

Muscle
relaxation:
Lay with your child
at bedtime wiht the
lights out and do a
toe-to-head muscle
stretch and release.
Start with wiggling
the toes and work
your way up to the
head, joint by joint.

A hot bath: Another great way
to ease nerves and
promote sleep is
a long, warm bath
before bed. Fingers
may look like raisins,
but a good soak
can help your child
prepare for sleep.

Still sleepless? Speak to your
child’s healthcare
provider about
other treatment
alternatives.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, August/September 2013.

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