As summer ends, children across the UK are returning to the classroom this week. With the start of a new academic year comes the usual apprehension and anxiety for students and parents alike.
Back-to-school stress is natural and understandable, but it has become more common since the disruptions of the pandemic. Numerous issues can fuel back-to-school anxiety. Some children may be anxious over the challenges around friendships; others may feel apprehension over the changing routine after a long summer break, and for others, joining a new school or class could fuel it.
Regardless of the situation, some simple strategies taken by parents can help ease their child back into the school environment and routine.
Open and honest communication is critical to helping the entire family adjust to the change. Talk and acknowledge how your child feels about the return to school and if they have any specific worries.
Be optimistic! A positive approach helps children face the future with optimism, not fear. Tell your child about your positive memories from school, and encourage them to talk about what they are looking forward to.
Make sure to be available when they come to you and answer any questions they have to help them work out what to expect. In the first few weeks, check in casually to see how they are getting on – even the smallest moments together can have the biggest impact on your child.
Non-attendance is a complex and growing issue in the UK, and various factors can contribute to your child’s refusal to go to school. Reasons range from your child’s mental and/or physical health, the lasting effect of social isolation during the pandemic, stress over the cost-of-living crisis, parent-school engagement, school bullying and family functioning to even the amount of community support your child receives. The compounding nature of these factors is increasing stress levels among children, making many feel overwhelmed and for some this can lead to using avoidance tactics as a coping mechanism.
Therefore, if your child refuses to go to school or is not looking forward to their first weeks back, be patient. Give them a safe space to voice their worries to help them feel more comfortable about attending school. Open dialogue will make them more likely to contact you with any concerns.
Returning to the rigorous routine can be a real challenge, with back-to-school meaning earlier wake-up times and long, busier days. Prepare for this by easing your child back into a more regular schedule to help them hit the ground running as school returns.
Helping them pack their bags the night before and encouraging them to talk with you about what they will be doing can create a positive start to the school year.
Going back to school can be a time of significant changes and excitement. However, if your children’s anxiety goes beyond normal back-to-school jitters and begins to impact their health, you can seek the help of your GP, their school or Mental Health Support Teams.
Parents are hugely influential in helping children feel settled for their first school day. If you feel you could benefit from support as a parent, accessing evidence-based parenting programmes can provide practical strategies and tools to help children manage anxiety and gain confidence. This will help give your children the best chance of enjoying their first day at school and beyond.
Matt Buttery is CEO of Triple P UK and Honorary Associate Professor at the University of Warwick