Hello, my 7-year-old daughter has been more irritable, no longer confiding in us and isolating herself these past couple of days. This happened right after we bought her school supplies in anticipation of her first day at school in two weeks. She often reacts this way right before the start of the academic year and we do not know how to react to this change of behaviour.
Returning to school following the summer break can be a stressful moment for children just like any other transitions or changes they may face. The child may feel nervous about meeting his new teacher and adapting to a new class and peers. He may also fear not understanding the subjects being taught or stress over the separation from his parents. The closer the back-to-school season gets, or the more the child is reminded of the approaching academic year by signs such as purchasing school supplies, the more the behavioural and physical changes due to anxiety become apparent. Therefore, the child may tend to be more irritable or angry, close himself off, be angrier, or have physical ailments.
It goes without saying that not all children react the same way as the back-to-school season approaches. However, each child will have to transition from summer vacation to the school year. Here are some useful tips to facilitate this transition while reducing the anxiety felt by the child:
- A few weeks before the first day of school
- Purchase the child's school supplies with him while making the experience enjoyable and positive so that he does not feel distant in a transition that concerns him. For example, offer him choices, get him involved by asking him to choose items.
- If possible, let him meet his future schoolmates so he may begin developing social bonds.
- Be sensitive to the child's emotions and symptoms while reassuring and helping him to find simple yet concrete solutions according to his needs. Be careful not to make him apprehensive towards school. The goal is to equip the child so he may feel confident.
- A few days before the first day of school
- Visit the school so the child becomes familiar with the place and feels comfortable. If possible, meet the new teacher to initiate contact.
- If necessary, do the bus trip with the child to reassure him.
- Reset the sleep schedule by waking up the child and putting him to sleep at the same hours as during the school year.
- The day before the first day of school
- Prepare the school supplies, get the clothes ready and make lunch with the child.
- Make sure the child gets enough sleep to be well rested for the next day.
- If necessary, reassure the child with positive words and help him find solutions if needed.
- The first day of school
- Give the child confidence by reminding him of what he already knows about the school year in order to reassure him (for example, he chose his school supplies, prepared his lunch, visited his school, etc.). Remind him also of the solutions that have been discussed with you if necessary.
- Adopt a positive attitude so as not to make the child feel insecure.
- During the school year
- Listen to and reassure the child by reminding him of his strengths or successes at school and helping him find solutions.
- Create scenarios in order to develop strategies to reassure and prepare the child (for example: if you don't know any kids in your class, what can you do?).
- Maintain a predictable routine for the child.
- Despite the anxiety felt by the child, do not prevent him from going to school. By doing so, the child's thoughts and fears are reinforced rather than tamed.
- Ask the child about his day, his classmates, and his teacher. The more sincerely you are interested in what's going on at school, the less lonely he will feel, the more he will know that he can turn to you when he feels anxious.
Different situations can make the child feel anxious about school to which different symptoms or behaviours can be associated. The key is to be sensitive to what the child is going through by accompanying and helping him find solutions on a daily basis to make him feel better and to manage the transition and separation from you.
*The use of the pronoun “he” is meant to alleviate the reading of this document.
Lackner, C. & Lazure, S. (2019). Aider les enfants anxieux face à l’école. Retrieved from https://www.selection.ca/sante/vivre-sainement/aider-les-enfants-anxieux-face-lecole/
Parcours d'enfant (2019). La réduction de l’anxiété – retour à l’école pour les enfants. Retrieved from https://www.parcoursdenfant.com/la-reduction-de-lanxiete-retour-a-lecole-pour-les-enfants/
SOS études (2019). L’anxiété scolaire : l’importance d’être à l’écoute. Retrieved from https://sosetudes.ca/anxiete-scolaire-importance-detre-a-lecoute/