Back 2 school: helping our children approach tough feelings about going back to school
The summer holidays are almost over, September is right around the corner (where has the time gone?!), and kids of all ages are thinking about and preparing to go back to school. Of course, us parents might be doing sneaky jumps for joy (although we’ll miss them) at the thought of not being asked for snacks a million times a day, but the start of a new school year can be nerve-wracking and maybe even a tear-inducing prospect for some children and young people. So, here are our top tips for helping your kids manage those tough feelings.
As adults, we’re probably familiar with the ‘Sunday-night-scaries’ or that dread we start to feel at the realisation it’s Sunday night, the weekends over and we’ve got to head back to work again tomorrow. Maybe your kids get it too before school on a Monday, and that’s just after a weekend. So after a summer holiday of down time, fun in the sun, relaxed routines, lazy lie-ins and double doses of screen time - imagine those Sunday night scaries… genuine chills.
The nerves, excitement and anticipation before we go back to school or work are quite normal. It’s a new year, our kids have moved up, there’s likely a little more pressure or expectation from them and their efforts day-to-day, so for tinies to teenagers it can be a stressful time. It’s understandable that they feel a little nervous come Monday morning. But, sometimes the stress of it can lead to bigger feelings, it can hit harder for some than others and the back to school celebrations are more like commiserations.
You might have young children starting school for the first time (a big day for you too), or just moving up to a new classroom with new teachers and it’s sent them in a spin. You might have sensitive or spirited children who’ve loved being at home in their space and close to you, having a hard time with the thought of doing the opposite in a few weeks. Or maybe you’ve got some grumpy teenagers heading into those all important last few years, and the pressure to focus and perform is on. There are a number of reasons our children might be struggling with the thought of going back to school, and a great way you can help them is to validate these feelings and let them know it’s ok to be scared or worried about going back to school - perhaps even share how you’re feeling about it or going back to work yourself.
Settling big feelings before going back to school!
Reassure them they are not alone
Let them know they are not the only ones feeling nervous or scared to go back. Everyone gets the jitters, even us as parents, and even though it doesn’t feel comfortable or nice, it’s normal. Now it won’t wipe away tears or melt away the fear, but it might help them step into school feeling a little better and braver.
Remind them of the good things about school
Make a list together, draw some pictures, have a cuppa with them and chat about all the things they are looking forward to about school. Perhaps they are excited to be reunited with friends, see their teachers again (even if it’s passing in the corridor), maybe they’ve got a favourite lesson they’re looking forward to, or they love PE and after school clubs.
Practice feeling calm together
Look at grounding exercises to help restore some calm and balance in their brains and bodies (and yours too when the drop-off is tough). Try picking a colour and counting how many things they can see in that colour, or the 5 senses exercise (name 5 things you can see, 4 things your can hear, 3 things you can feel, 2 things you can smell, 1 you can taste). These work for adults and kids alike, by distracting us from the worry or fear and reminding our brain we are safe. Practise one you both like together, get them used to noticing how it works and how it changes how they feel. Then they can do it at school or on the way to help them reground when the nerves kick in.
And of course, talk about it
Big feelings are tough to deal with, especially as children and young people (and for teenagers, with a whirlwind of hormones thrown in too!). Talking about it together normalises feeling this way, creates a curiosity to understand the emotions rather than push them away, and can help take some of the weight of it off their shoulders. Talking about your feelings, about returning to work or them going back to school can help to remind them that it’s a tough thing to do but it’s still doable, and also helps them feel able to open up.
Back2skool: Adapt these tips for your children’s age, for young kids keep it simple, for older try to let them identify their feelings. And go easy on yourself, even if you’re excited to drink a hot tea, have a peaceful morning, or even get back to work uninterrupted - the return to school can be tough on the whole family. And don’t forget a new school year is full of new opportunities, to learn, grow and develop for you and your children!