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Coping with School Anxiety for Young Children

Children starting kindergarten or returning to elementary school often experience school anxiety. Think of it as starting a new job or returning to work after a long vacation.

Here are some strategies to minimize school anxiety and help your children start a great school year!

Getting Ready For School

· Practice the skills your child will need for school. For example, practice opening up lunch containers or standing at the bus stop. Drive the route of the bus and practice walking into school.

· Make things easier for your child if needed. For example, if your child is struggling to tie his shoes, get some with velcro.

· Keep routines the same at home including bedtimes and meal times.

· Read books about going back to school.

· Develop a fun tradition for going back to school such as pancakes for breakfast on the first day.

· Taking pictures on the first day can be a fun and meaningful activity. Your child will enjoy looking back at past first day pictures as he or she grows up.

· If your child has any special needs, make sure you have communicated with his or her teacher.

· Make sure you take any necessary medication that your child has to take during the day to the school. The school will ask you and possibly your child’s doctor to complete forms for any medication given during the school day.

· You might want to consider keeping the last few days of summer free of any big trips or activities that might be exciting but also stressful for your family.

The First Day and Week

· Your child will probably be super tired! Try to make sure you can get him or her to bed on time but possibly even earlier. Those first few weeks can be exhausting for children as they return to the school routine.

· Some children may seem to be irritable when they come home from school. This is really common the first few weeks of back to school as children are working hard all day to learn new expectations and follow school rules. Keep expectations and consequences the same so children know what to expect at home.

· If your child continues to be very irritable and/or you see an increase in defiant, tantrum, or aggressive behaviors at home, he or she might be struggling with learning or anxiety related to school. Check in with your child and his teacher. Sometimes children who are struggling to learn or are anxious at school will bottle up feelings all day and explode at home.

· If your child seems to be struggling with learning, considering testing to determine your child’s strengths and challenge areas. Testing can provide valuable keys to how your child best learns.

If Your Child’s School Anxiety Makes It Harder To Go To School

Sometimes children start to struggle with school anxiety which can lead to avoiding going to school. Children who develop a strong school avoidance could miss out on not only learning but also social opportunities and fun that school can offer. Here are some strategies for helping your child if he or she is showing a lot of anxiety or avoidance of school.

· Have a discussion with your child about his or her feelings about school when he or she is already calm. Avoid having this discussion when your child is already upset about going to school.

· If your child starts showing avoidance behaviors such as whining or crying when talking about school or in the mornings before school, try to not engage your child in talk or physical contact. Strategies such as attempting to sooth your child by talking to him or her or rocking can actually increase anxiety. Often these strategies can reinforce anxiety and avoidance behaviors by proving to the child that there is something scary that requires the parent to help the child. Providing direct attention when the child is showing avoidance based on anxiety can also show that child that you are ok with whining or crying instead of going to school.

· If it is your desire for your child to go to school, avoid allowing him or her to believe that school attendance is a choice. For example, when you talk about school, make sure you use a neutral tone and start sentences with, “When you go to school……”

· Often when children are anxious, it can make their caregivers feel anxious too! Remember to stay calm and model bravery for your child.

· If your child is experiencing anxiety and/or school avoidance behaviors that last more than the first week or two, you may want to schedule an appointment with a child therapist. A therapist is able to give you strategies for helping your child with anxiety.







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