It’s the time of year that starts to creep up on some families. No matter how fun summer has been, it comes to an end; some of our kids become anxious and dread the unknown ahead. A new year at school can be exciting, but it can be a tough transition for other kids. New class, new teacher, new friends, some see the unknown as exciting and fun. However, for kids who struggle with transitions and change, these exciting times can require a lot of planning and care. Here are some anxious kids transition tips for school.

First, parents may begin to see behavior changes in their anxious or sensitive kids this time of year. Kids may start to ask a lot of questions about the new year (which is particularly difficult when you don’t have the answers for them).   

Some signs they may be struggling with transition to a new class or school:

  • They may begin to talk back or seem angry
    Many emotions and thoughts rush through them, which can be daunting, and they often can’t recognize the root of the problem or know how to regulate those emotions, resulting in anger or lashing out. Remember that behind every behavior is a feeling.
  • Showing physical signs
    They may have headaches or tummy aches. This is common, and while these are anxiety symptoms, it’s important to remember not just to treat the headaches but to address the anxiety, which could help relive the physical symptoms.   
  • Withdrawal
    If your outgoing child suddenly seems to be withdrawing, they may be overthinking and experiencing anxiety. 

Remember that keeping the lines of communication open is one of the best ways to work together with your child to ensure that you can help them. The key to a successful transition is open lines of communication. Don’t do the work for them; teaching them how to work through it is what will provide them with long-term success. Keeping your child accountable for their part in the process will allow them the greatest success.

Don’t allow your own anxieties to get in the way.

For some parents, it’s common to suffer from anxiety too. Watching our children struggle can bring out our insecurities and fears. Remember that What makes you anxious may not affect them the same way. Be mindful not to project your insecurities onto them. Show confidence and excitement about the new year (gently, without shame)

Focus on what will remain the same

Find what will be the same. Perhaps they’ll enter the school through the same door each morning or travel on the bus with the same kids. Find the similarities and focus a lot on those. 

Validate their feelings

Allow them to talk openly about how they feel. Validate those emotions. Resist the urge to make your child’s feelings disappear. Instead, help them to identify and express their feelings. Don’t sweep them under the carpet; this will teach them that their feelings are shameful. We want to encourage our kids to recognize, identify and talk about their feelings. Another good way of doing this is to lead by example. If you’re nervous about a new situation, tell your child and let them know how you’re dealing with those fears.  

Allow room for stress, and recovery

Setting our kids up for success (not only with the new school year but by providing life skills for the future) means teaching them self-care. Make sure they get a good night’s sleep. Take breaks when needed and keep expectations low in the beginning. 
 

Build a new routine slowly

Start by making a list of what school supplies will be needed, then allow them to sit with that for a day or so. Then go shopping. Talk through the morning routine together, let them sit with that, then a few days later, walk through it together. Slowly add tasks and changes when you notice a decrease in their anxiety.

Do a walkthrough

If your child is nervous, try doing a run-through so the first day of school, your child is already familiar with the routine. First, discuss what the new routine will look like, then walk it through. This also helps parents plan for timing. Nothing exasperates anxiety by rushing your child on the first day of school. So, a dry run will allow your child to become familiar with this part of the transition and help parents with time management to eliminate some of the chaos and rush.

Here are more ways to help with back-to-school nerves. Always to reach out for support if you feel unable to help your child, or they show signs of being in crisis. 

Author

Natalie Martinez is a wife, mother, daughter, sister. She's a social worker and advocate for mental health and women's rights.

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