A Parents Guide to Back to School Confidence

No parent wants to see their child struggle, especially when it involves seeing them upset and anxious at the school gates. The start of the new school year is exciting for most children, but it can also bring a lot of worry and anxiety. Even kids who are usually calm and confident can get the jitters, and may become clingier and more nervous than usual. The stress of going into a new class, starting a new school or having a different teacher can add to the emotional strain. Maybe you have noticed your child is anxious, complaining of headaches, tummy aches, mood swings or is not quite acting themselves.

Kids worry about all sorts of things such as teachers, friends, fitting in and being away from their parents. Some common school worries include: 

For the first-time schoolers…

  • Will I make friends? 
  • What if I make a mistake or get things wrong?
  • What if I don’t like it there?
  • What if I don’t fit in?
  • What if I get lost?
  • Will I get bullied?
  • What if I can’t understand the lessons?
  • What if I get homesick and miss my family?
  • What if I don’t make it to the toilet on time?
  • How will I get dressed on my own after PE?

And back to school worries…

  • Who will be my new teacher?  
  • What if my new teacher isn’t very nice?
  • What if I’m not with my friends in my next class?
  • Do I look OK? 
  • Will I look silly or say something stupid?
  • Who will I sit with at lunch?
  • What if I’m late to school? 
  • How will I cope with the work and exams?

Look after the basics 

Nobody copes well when they are tired, hungry or dehydrated. Anxious children often struggle to regularly eat and don’t get enough sleep. Make sure your child is eating nutritious food, drinking lots of water and getting regular rest. Build in a predictable routine, so that life is easier and more familiar for your child.

Make time to listen

Ask your child what is making them worried. Explain that it’s normal to have worries and concerns. Set up a regular time and place to talk. Some children feel most comfortable in a private space with your undivided attention such as right before bed, or over breakfast/dinner. Others prefer to keep it light by casually chatting through feelings while in the car, or while out taking a walk.   

Validate their feelings

Resist the urge to dismiss their concerns – ‘Nothing to be worried about! You’ll be fine!’ Make time to really listen to them. By acknowledging your child’s feelings, they will feel more secure. Keep in mind that kids often want to be able to talk about something they’re upset about without expecting you to fix them. Your job is to hear them out and validate their feelings. You can do this by saying ‘I know that’s hard’ and give them the confidence that they can handle the situation.

Encourage them to problem solve

Encourage them to think of ways to solve their problem. For example, ‘If that happens, what could you do?’ or ‘Let’s think of some ways you could handle that.’ This gives you the opportunity to coach your child on how to cope with both real and imagined scary situations. You will also be giving your child the tools they need to cope with unexpected situations. Role play and get creative.

Focus on the positives

Move their attention away from the worries and towards the positives. Ask them ‘What are you most excited about on your first day of school?’ Most kids can think of something good, even if it’s just lunchtime or going home at the end of the day. By getting them focused on what they like and enjoy they will start to shift their attention away from their worries.

Manage your own emotions

It can be really nerve racking for parents to hand over the care and responsibility of their child to teachers. Make sure you are not passing on your own stress. The more confidence and calm you show, the more your child will see that there is no reason to be afraid. Be supportive yet firm.  When saying goodbye in the morning, say it cheerfully and without hesitation. Deal with tears, tantrums and upset in a calm and relaxed manner. Take a deep breath and say ‘I can see that you are upset. Tell me what you are thinking about, so we can talk about it.”  Most fears are common and simply require a little problem-solving, role-playing, planning, or support from the teacher.  

Prepare!

  • Start your child on a school-day routine a week or so before by waking up, eating, and going to bed at regular times.  Explain that everyone in the family needs to adjust to the new schedule, so he or she doesn’t feel alone with these changes.
  • If you anticipate that your child will be seriously nervous on the first day, it helps to get used to the new school in advance. Even driving past the school or walking past the playground will help them familiarise themselves.
  • For older children who having troubles getting up and out of bed, give them an alarm clock, and let them practice using it.
  • Create a list of school uniform and supplies, making the preparation fun and exciting.
  • Ask your child to get involved and help plan school lunches for the week. Get them to lay out their uniform and pack up their schoolbag the night before.
  • Teach and practice coping skills to use when feeling nervous, such as hot chocolate breathing and positive self-talk. Help your child create a magic bubble so they can feel positive and confident about their school day.
  • Practice friendship building skills. Encourage them to see things from another person’s point of view, to ask questions and to take it in turns.
  • Steer clear of language and questions that encourage anxiety. ‘Are you worried about having a new teacher?’ or ‘Are you nervous?’
  • Speak up. Let someone know if you have particular concerns. Speak to the class teacher, assistant or office. They will be happy to help. Encourage your child to talk and share their concerns with them too.
  • Most importantly praise your child for demonstrating a positive and optimistic attitude. Give examples of what they have done to show confidence by giving specific examples.

If you want more help and support getting your child’s confidence super charged and topped up for school, book a family Skype coaching session by contacting me at emily@mindtoolsforkids.com

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