As the summer holidays come to an end, it’s completely natural for your child to feel anxious about starting a new school or academic year. But for some children the change in routine can leave them feeling overwhelmed and struggling to cope – which is hard to watch as a parent.
To help alleviate your child’s anxiety, here are eight top tips from our members.
Pete English who is a school counsellor for several primary and secondary schools in Worcestershire, said:
“Probably the biggest transition a child experiences at school is the move from primary to secondary school. Quite often they get overwhelmed with the ‘hugeness’ of everything. The lunch hall is often a big deal – where to sit, the number of people, the noise. There’s also anxiety about finding classrooms – especially if some children haven’t had to do this before.”
Listen to your child and validate their feelings
London and Surrey based school counsellor Susie Pinchin says if you find your child struggling with the changes at their new or existing school, the most important thing you can do is listen.
“Listen to your child. Really listen. Don't diminish their fears by saying 'don't worry' or ‘it’ll be fine’. If they can voice their fears, take the time to talk it through with them. Ask them if there is anything you can do to help and acknowledge what they tell you,” said Susie.
“They may just want a hug and to know that you will be there at the end of the day to talk things through if needed.”
Avoid “fix it” mode
Susie also says that children don't actually need or want their parents or care-givers to sort everything out for them. Acknowledging their fears and showing support often provides the reassurance they need to work things out for themselves.
Heidi Soholt, a school counsellor and private practitioner based in Stirling, Scotland, agrees and says that parents need to avoid going into ‘fix it’ mode when presented with their child’s anxiety.
“Asking your child for their opinion on how you can help can empower them gives them a sense of control over the situation,” says Heidi.
“It’s also important to see your child’s struggles as separate from any you may have experienced at school. Viewing our children’s experiences through our own lens is not always helpful and can lead us to form the wrong assumptions.”
Remind them of challenges they’ve overcome
Heidi suggests that parents can help build confidence and resilience in their children by reminding them of times when they have overcome challenges.
“If you are comfortable, it might be helpful to provide a few examples of your own experiences of anxiety. Your child will feel less alone and more understood, and this could open opportunities for you to pass on some healthy coping tips of your own,”
Preparation is key
After getting to the bottom of what’s causing your child’s worry Rachel Vora, a school counsellor and private practitioner based in Cheshire, says that setting mini tasks in the lead up to school can help ease back to school anxiety.
“Getting their uniform ready, packing their school bag, and arranging what time to get the school bus can help to ease a child back into the school routine,” says Rachel.
Rachel also recommends that ensuring your child has a good night’s sleep and eats healthily in the days leading up to school will help them be more resilient to the pressures and expectations of the new school year.
Use breathing techniques
Laura Jones says that in her eight years as a school counsellor she has witnessed both primary and senior school students using mindful breathing techniques to relax, reduce, even eliminate anxiety.
“Ask your child to locate whereabouts in their body they are feeling any anxiety. Young people often say they feel it in their head, chest or stomach. The 4x4 breathing technique can be great for this and involves ten repetitions of four seconds of deep inhaling, followed by four seconds of powerful exhaling,” says Laura.
Explore creative outlets
Laura also urges parents to explore using expressive strategies to help children process and offload anxiety.
Laura adds: “Offering and allowing time for art, sports, adventure and anything that feeds your child’s soul is a great way to release anxiety.
“Some children can benefit from bedtime journaling or online age-relevant bedtime meditations as a way of identifying and expressing their emotions.”
Build support networks
Ensuring that both you and your child have a strong support network in school can be beneficial too.
“Support groups and conversations with parents experiencing similar emotions will give you a space to process any worries you have about starting school and separate your feelings from those of your child,” advises Rachel Voss.
Laura Jones adds that the support network at home is equally important.
“A harmonious, calm environment at home is crucial at any time, but especially when your child is battling with anxiety. It’s important to be aware of who your child seems relaxed and reassured around. Nurture those relationships,” said Laura.
Watch your own stress levels
And finally, as the new school year often brings so much change for the family as well as for your child, it’s important to watch your own stress levels.
“It’s easy for us to pass our anxiety on to our children. Ensuring you take time to check-in with yourself, acknowledging any feelings of distress, and having effective support and coping strategies in place is crucial in supporting your child,” says Heidi Soholt.
If your child’s anxieties persist beyond a normal ‘settling in’ period at school, and interferes with their ability to socialise or learn, then it could be helpful to contact a professional trained in supporting children with anxiety. Therapeutic interventions such as counselling and play therapy can be effective in helping children process, understand and cope with anxiety.
To find a local counsellor or psychotherapist who can help you with stress, see our Therapist directory.
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