Ask any school aged child, parent or teacher and you’ll likely hear that of all the school weeks, this is the most anxiety provoking. For children, there may be anxiety about how well they’re going to get along with the other students in their classroom, how much they’re going to like their new teacher (or whether she’s really as strict as everyone says!), how they’re going to get up on time in the morning (actually, that’s more likely the parents worry!) and whether they’ll be included in games at outdoor recess.
For parents, it’s normal to worry too – especially if your child is just starting out in kindergarten, high school or university. Or beginning a new grade at a new school. Normal to worry about your child taking the school bus on his own. Normal to fret about how you’re going to get it all together in the morning – make school lunches, get everyone out of bed and to school before the first bell. Normal to worry about your son or daughter finding his or her way around a large campus or living away from home for the first time.
Even teachers experience jitters as they prepare for their first week back after summer break. Even though they’ve usually taken a few days before the students arrive to ready their classroom and reconnect with their colleagues, they’re worried about working with a fresh group of children. They’re anxious about being able to set a firm but fair tone during the first week that will follow them through the year.
Usually by the second week, and definitely by the third, most of the creases have been ironed out and most classrooms are sailing on smooth waters. Teachers are comfortable with their classrooms, any changes to the classes have been worked out and children have settled into a rhythm with one another – both in the classroom and the playground.
However, for some children, anxiety continues beyond the first few weeks. Children may manifest anxiety in slightly different ways to adults. They often complain about headaches or stomach aches when very feel anxious. They may say that they don’t feel like eating breakfast (even though they typically enjoy this meal). They may complain about feeling nauseous. If these symptoms continue beyond the second week of school, it’s a good idea to try to figure out why.
– consider whether your child is typically anxious? Maybe she’s felt this way during other stressful periods or transitions in her life? In this case, she may be more prone to anxiety. You may know that it takes time before she settles in and may choose to take a wait and see approach.
– If he’s not normally an anxious child, perhaps there’s something happening at school that needs to be explored further. Is there another child who he’s particularly uncomfortable with? Is he being teased or bullied? Is his new teacher’s style of communication something he’s not familiar or comfortable with?
– Acknowledging that some anxiety is normal is a good idea – especially in the first week or two. However, if it extends beyond that, it may be wise to communicate with other people, such as his teacher, to see what she is observing when he’s in her care.
– brainstorm solutions to help ease his anxiety.
1. Sometimes, breaking up his day so that he can come home for lunch one or two days a week (during the first few weeks) may help him get through the day. However, be cautious about rescuing him too quickly. If he’s anxious about social time during lunch recess, then whisking him away at lunch to the safety of his home will relieve his anxiety temporarily but won’t allow him to develop the skills and self confidence to overcome this anxiety. Rather discuss ways that he can talk to others and encourage friendships.
2. If she attends a neighbourhood school, arrange play dates after school so that she can become more comfortable with classmates outside of school in a more relaxed environment.
3. Practice deep breathing or progressive relaxation exercises at home. There are relaxation cd’s that you can listen to with your child to learn exercises that he can then practice at school without anyone even knowing.
4. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is the best treatment approach for dealing with anxiety. If your child’s anxiety is getting in the way of getting to or staying at school, then it would be wise to contact a therapist who is experienced with treating children and using the CBT approach so that he or she can develop other more powerful strategies for dealing with anxiety.