My child is anxious about returning to school. How can I help?
As parents and carers, we can support our children and young people if they are anxious about returning to school. We can help them to recognise and understand better what they are experiencing and we can explore with them ways to cope.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is the natural reaction we experience when we feel under threat. It can be triggered by thinking about a past, current or future threatening situation and is more common when events are unpredictable or new. This sense of threat or danger leads to an automatic response. Our brain reacts with what is known as a ‘fight or flight’ response and releases hormones in our body. These hormones prepare the body to react to danger so we may notice that our muscles are tense, our heart is beating faster and our breathing is quicker. We can feel light-headed or experience butterflies in our stomach. We might feel worried, afraid or stressed.
We all vary in how strongly we react to threat and in how frightening or dangerous a situation appears to us.
Children who are anxious might not always be able to express what they are feeling and might tell us they have a sore tummy or head or might complain about being unable to sleep.
Returning to school
Returning to school after the summer break can be both an exciting and an anxious time for children and young people. This year, children have already had to cope with all the changes related to the pandemic and altered schooling. Children may have many worries about their return to school such as whether they will be safe, whether they will have friends, will their school look different, will the work be too hard and will the return to school actually happen. These worries may reflect your own concerns for your children.
There are ways we can help prepare our children for their return. Here are some ideas in the table below.
PDF file: Ideas for preparing return to school (770 KB)
Word file: Ideas for preparing return to school (16 KB)
In the diagram below, created by City of Edinburgh Psychological Service and CAMHS, some key ideas are gathered about how to help your child cope with anxiety.
PDF file: Helping your child to cope with anxiety (2 MB)
Back to school
Psychologists from health and education in Ayrshire have developed a parent guide and an easy read / non-easy read for children and young people on returning to school and anxiety.
The Partnership for children organisation have developed an activity sheet to support talking about different feelings about going back to school and ways of coping with worries.
The autism toolbox has a page with a range of resources related to transition back to school for children with a variety of additional support needs.
In this video (8 min), Dr Jess Richardson, principal clinical psychologist, provides straightforward, important suggestions for parents and teachers to deal with any potential apprehension or anxiety children may experience on returning to school.
Recognising feelings and calming ideas
East Renfrewshire has a helpful information page on helping children recognise feelings and ways to support relaxation in their Healthier minds website.
Dr Karen Treisman has several films illustrating calming ideas. There is one on hand breathing, a calm box and rhythmic relaxation.
This guide by Psychology Tools offers help for anyone experiencing anxiety during the pandemic.