Starting a new school year can be both an exciting and anxious time for students and caregivers.
It is normal for both to experience several emotions, questions, and some concerns about heading back to school.
Having tools and strategies to address a potentially stressful situation can diffuse anxiety and lead to a calmer, more positive start to the new year.
Here are some tips that caregivers can use to support their children.
Before getting to using these with your family, allow yourself some time and space to check in with your own perspectives about back-to-school. Think about the feelings you are experiencing right now and whether these are the feelings that you want to project in conversations about back-to-school with your children. If not, this is the time to check in with others to manage these emotions. For example, if you are feeling confused and have questions, seek out these answers from the school or other appropriate sources of information. Additionally, check in with the other people who help care for your children, like your spouse, co-parent, or others, to get on the same page with your family’s expectations and goals for the new year.
Starting conversations with your children about what they are feeling and thinking about heading back to school is very valuable. As caregivers, it is important to make space to allow children to express themselves and share what is going on for them – they might surprise you! First, think about a good time to check in: Riding bikes past the school, around the table at dinner, winding down before bed, or maybe heading out together in the car. Ask them directly and specifically about what they are feeling. Instead of “Can you tell me what you’re feeling about going back to school?,” which could be a “no,” try, “What thoughts are coming up when you think about heading back to school?,” “What feelings have you noticed thinking about back to school?.”
Finally, make space for the unknown. As a family, consider discussing unknowns you are all thinking about. For example, “What questions do you have about back-to-school or what things are you unsure about heading into this school year?” You can talk about this or have everyone in your family write their uncertainties down and take turns reading them out. It is important to acknowledge the fear that underlies the unknown and allow time to sit with this before going into problem-solving mode. “Wow, I hear how worried you are about whether you’ll be able to keep up with work in class after being online this past year. Tell me more about that.” From there, focus on identifying and validating your child’s emotions.
You can check in with your child about what they need to manage their emotions: “Do you want me to just listen? Do you want some help in planning to try to manage this?” This demonstrates that you are listening and understanding them, and sometimes providing them with some ideas about what to do next. If they are unsure, try brainstorming ideas and exploring these together. Remember, our children are not always looking to us as caregivers to fix the situation. It makes a world of difference to them to know we hear them when they share information and understand what they are experiencing.
Amid rising rates of childhood anxiety, you as a caregiver can be a valuable support system for your child. Don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor or mental health professional if you or your child could use additional support.