With September 5th just a few days away, it’s common for both parents and children to feel a myriad of emotions about the first day of school. Here are some tips to help you and your child calm those back-to-school butterflies!
Set a positive tone to help your child feel good about school.
If you’re anxious about your child going to school, your child may pick up on that. Try to express enthusiasm and confidence about their upcoming adventure. Allow them to have control over certain aspects of back-to-school planning, like what clothes they want to wear on the first day, or what kind of sandwich they like in their lunch. Put a little note of encouragement in their snack or lunch.
Recognize signs of anxiety.
If your child is feeling anxious, you may often notice it by observing changes in their behaviours, sleep patterns or appetite. If they become quiet when they’re usually outgoing, or if they start acting out when they are usually quiet, it could be a sign that they are masking their feelings or fears. Ask them about their feelings. You may need to prompt them by asking if they are feeling worried about starting or returning to school.
Reduce unknown factors to reduce anxiety.
Review basic safety rules for taking the bus or walking to school such as looking before crossing the street, remaining seated until the bus comes to a full stop, not talking too loudly so the bus driver can concentrate. Take them on a walk or drive to their school. Show them where the bus will drop them off at school and where they go in the yard. Reducing unknown factors is always a great way of reducing feelings of anxiety! Asking the child of a neighbour to accompany your child on the bus until they are comfortable may also be helpful. Try to be enthusiastic and positive about the school experience. Remember, your child will take their cues from you.
Communicate with your child.
Reassure your child that being anxious or having “butterflies” is normal. If you can find out what in particular is causing them to feel anxious, you can help them problem-solve different solutions. Encourage them to find solutions to help build self-confidence. Experts agree: all through the year, keep your child talking about school by asking open-ended questions. Let them know how you may have also struggled at school and share strategies that helped you. If they have an older sibling who experienced some of these same concerns, enlist their support in speaking with their brother or sister.
Share useful coping strategies with your child.
Teaching your child strategies when they are calm will allow them to develop skills they can use when upset. Help your child identify a familiar, caring adult in the school they can turn to if upset at school. Practice deep-breathing or relaxation exercises. Practice positive self-talk. Encourage using art, physical activity, or journaling for stress reduction. A great resource for parents of younger children is the MindMasters 2 program by the Child & Youth Health Network for Eastern Ontario. Kids Help Phone has also created a very useful back-to-school guide.
Keeping an open dialogue with your child will go a long way in helping your child feel great about their upcoming school year. Remember that your child’s teacher and school principal are also incredibly valuable resources in creating proactive solutions for your child’s success. The school-home partnership is key.
Dr. Elizabeth Paquette is the Mental Health Lead for the OCSB. She has been with the Board for 30 years, and is a registered psychologist with an expertise in school psychology.