School has only been back in session for a week or two but already many parents are dealing with, “I don’t want to go”, “I feel sick,” and “I’m scared”.
School anxiety is a major concern for many families, regardless of whether their child is five or fifteen. There are a number of factors that could be causing this school anxiety – problems with peers, bullying, conflicts with teachers, exam anxiety and social anxiety.
All children get a little worried from time to time but if your child is particularly anxious about school, have a look at these tactics from expert Delvene Neilson, educator and Head of Customer Success at ClickView.
Hopefully, some of these tactics will help you get to the bottom of school anxiety.
The worry box
“A worry box is a useful container that can be used to hold your child’s worries. The box is a way to symbolise the idea that worries are simply thoughts that we can separate ourselves from,” Delvene says. “The box will help your child identify their anxieties, acknowledge them and store them in a safe place.”
To encourage your children to use the worry box, have pieces of paper and a pen handy. Add your own worries to the box too. This is a great idea for us mums too!
Then set aside time to discuss these worries, perhaps at the end of each week.
“Use problem-solving skills to resolve the worry. If your child no longer feels it is a worry, rip it up and place it in the bin. If the worry still exists, place it back in the box.”
Tackle separation anxiety
Separation anxiety is common in younger children but it often flares up in older children at the beginning of school when they are used to being home with you. With younger children, you may be able to start by only spending a short period of time away from them. However, once they are in school, it doesn’t work this way. They are away from you for six hours a day and that’s how it is.
So how can you help them accept this? Delvine suggests using an object to help overcome separation anxiety. A fidget toy or a happy photo perhaps?
The heart method
When my daughter struggled with separation anxiety, I drew a little heart on the inside of her thumb and another little heart on the inside of mine.
I told her that anytime she missed me, she simply had to press the heart. I would be able to feel it through my magic heart. And vice versa.
Such a simple idea but it definitely helped!
Climbing the fear ladder
Children are very visual so consider helping them understand school anxiety by giving them a picture.
“Tackling scary challenges can sometimes feel like climbing a very tall, wobbly ladder. Draw a basic ladder and break down each challenge into the ladder rungs.
Use it to make note of the difficult tasks your child wishes to achieve when they go back to school, starting with the simpler tasks at the bottom, and increasing to more difficult tasks towards the top of the ladder. By achieving one small step at a time, they’ll gain more confidence to keep climbing.”
Ask the right questions
Go beyond “How was your day?” by asking more thoughtful questions to help your child reflect.
- What made you smile today?
- What did you do that was kind to another?
- Did anything make you sad today?
- What challenged you today and why?
- What did you learn that was new today?
“These will be more likely to start a meaningful conversation with your child, and encourage a response that is more considered than a grunt or an automated response of, ‘good’, when asking about their day,” Delvene explains.
Prepare your child for new situations
School is full of anxious moments. Assessments, public speaking, sports carnivals, social events – all part of the schooling experience but also very nerve-wracking for children who do have social anxiety.
“If there is a situation coming up that may cause your child to feel nervous or anxious, helping them to prepare for that situation will help to normalise and develop the right approach to engage.
This could include brainstorming about what might happen in that situation, who will be involved, when, what your role will be.”
Model coping mechanisms yourself
We are our children’s greatest role models so it makes sense that they learn how to cope with school anxiety through how we cope with our own anxieties, such as worries about work.
The next time you have a big presentation coming up or are anxious about a deadline or project, tell them about it, including what you are doing to overcome these fears. This normalises the feeling and helps them to see the strategies that you use.
Encourage the new
“Encouraging our children to do things out of their comfort zone with the right safety net and support can help them overcome nerves and fears. It is also about building resilience and overcoming a struggle to help them see that they can do something that at first made them anxious.”
Some ideas? “Arrange a new buddy that they can walk to school with.Get your child involved in sporting, art or community activities. Or use game-based play to get them to do things at home that they get nervous about,” Delvene suggests.
If you need more information during this time of transition between schools or year groups, ClickView has created a series of free resources to help give you the tools you need to focus on wellbeing.