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The Kynd Blog

How can I help my child with anxiety when starting school?

Whether it’s your child’s first year of school or just the commencement of a new year, anxiety before school can cause a lot of stress on the entire family

As children begin going back to school, many parents find themselves wondering how they can help their child with anxiety when starting school. Thankfully, because so many children deal with anxiety when starting school, a lot of ideas and resources exist to provide assistance.

In this article, we’ll discuss signs and causes of anxiety and offer ideas for managing it. Anxiety may not dissipate entirely in all circumstances. But it can certainly be eased with a little wisdom and support. 

Signs of anxiety

Being a parent or Support Worker of a child with anxiety can be a tough gig. Moods can change by the minute. Boundaries get tested. And habits can be unpredictable. 

All children are likely to present with one or more of the signs of anxiety from time to time. Be sure to reflect on what’s usual or unusual for your child’s unique personality. 

Signs of anxiety in children can include: 

  • Emotional outbursts, anger and moodiness
  • An unwillingness to eat or complaints of an upset tummy
  • Crying out of the blue or for very little reason 
  • Trouble sleeping or getting to sleep at night
  • Being overly clingy and needy 
  • Unusual physical behaviours like fidgeting 
  • Withdrawal from usual social activities

What causes anxiety before school?

There are many different reasons children feel anxious before starting school. 

From the simple change of routine to the nervousness of a social setting, it’s important to appreciate how huge the transition from home to school is. 

Friendships, parental separation, pressure to achieve and teacher relationships are a lot to manage for a developing brain. 

You may find your child’s anxiety is short-lived and circumstantial or a sign of something more. Being observant and proactive will ensure you choose the right management path for your child.

How can I help my child with anxiety when starting school?

Nutritious meals, plenty of sleep and regular exercise go a long way in reducing anxiety. There are also more specific strategies available for parents guiding their children through school anxiety:

Make time for one-on-one communication

Although it may seem natural to have both parents involved in important conversations, your child may feel outnumbered in this situation. It’s also easy for you both to start rambling and conversing independently. Other siblings can also overwhelm things. 

Take time for one-on-one communication in a calm setting without too many distractions. You may wish to take a stroll or go out for a milkshake. Ask simple, open questions like ‘what bits of school do you think you will like best?’ and talk casually about how they are feeling.

Remove the unknowns with a clear plan

Sometimes anxiety heightens with unknowns. Try being clear about what school will be like with statements like “I will be at the office while you are at school” and “you will eat lunch with the other kids”. 

Even if your child can’t read, it might help to write their daily schedule down with cues drawn next to each point. You could also put a calendar on the fridge that clearly shows when school is on and when the holidays will be.

Do a test run a week before the first day

You may be able to keep anxiety at bay by making the school setting familiar. Consider doing a test run of going to the school the week before it starts. Pack a lunch box into your child’s school bag, suggest they wear an item of the school uniform and drive to the school. 

You can then have a picnic nearby or simply take a walk and eat on a nearby park bench. This allows them to see the school in a calm setting, without hundreds of overly excited kids and frantic parents around. 

Make the mornings as easy as possible

Most families with schoolchildren will agree that the before-school morning rush can be mayhem. Preventing this is really important if your child is experiencing anxiety. Prepare as much as you can the night before and leave a few nice things for the morning. 

You may want to have your hair washed and everyone’s outfits set out the night before, but prepare lunches in the morning. You may let your child have some ownership over what’s included for excitement, without too much pressure to make decisions. For example, ‘I’ve made you a yummy sandwich. Would you like lentil chips or popcorn to go with it?’. 

Lastly, prepare for school as if it starts 15 minutes earlier than it does so any mishaps or delays don’t leave you flustered and rushing.

Reference the end of the day

Another idea for reducing anxiety before school is to reference the end of the day. This serves as a reminder that your separation is only temporary.

You may want to create a simple but fun thing for you to do together at the end of each day. Just avoid committing to anything you can’t stick to. Some ideas include: 

  • Stopping off at your local pet store to admire their puppies
  • Visiting a family member or friend
  • Taking a swim
  • Eating something out of the ordinary
  • Going to the library

What can schools do to help manage anxiety before school?

The most important thing to do is make your school aware of how your child is feeling. This means they can go to extra effort to watch out for them and offer additional support. 

Most teachers are well-trained to help children with anxiety. Steps they might take to assist include:

  • Encouraging friendships between your child and supportive, calm-natured children.
  • Connecting your child to official support. For example, many Queensland schools have a Guidance Officer dedicated to wellbeing and mental health concerns.
  • Suggesting outside assistance like Kids Helpline and Smiling Mind. 
  • Utilising in-class techniques such as breathing exercises and safe spaces. The whole class will often partake to avoid spotlighting the issue.

Actively communicate with your school and develop strategies together. They might be able to offer further insights based on what they see of your child in a school setting. It can be very different to what you see at home!

What role can a Support Worker play in managing anxiety before school?

Support Workers can be very helpful in the first few weeks of school. This is particularly true if your child already has a good rapport with them. 

Your child’s Support Worker might like to:

  • Create visual supports like a photo book reminding the child of fun times that can be had at school. 
  • Apply psychological strategies that may assist in reshaping their thinking. 
  • Offer additional morning assistance such as preparing lunches or playing fun and calm games while you get everything organised.

Remember that anxiety is a natural function of the brain designed to keep us safe and manage risk. The first few weeks of school will typically be the hardest. Stick to your routine and adopt good strategies and your child’s anxiety is likely to ease.

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For too long, the way people with disabilities and their Support Workers get together has been complex, costly and offered little control. Kynd helps people easily connect, save and get truly personalised NDIS support. Learn more. 

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