When schools break up for the summer holidays, Autumn can seem like a lifetime away. Before we know it though, the weather is changing, the leaves are turning. Our minds move to buying uniforms, stocking up on stationery and thinking about getting back to our “normal” routines. For some kids, that’s exciting. School brings opportunities to grow and learn and socialise. For others, it’s tricky and the closer we get to September, the more heightened their anxieties grow. How can we, as parents and carers, help our children navigate any end of summer anxiety – especially in a world still recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic?
Kids who are heading back to school, or starting school, this autumn are facing unusual challenges. Even though social distancing and other restrictions may have ended on 19th July, schools were still impacted by Covid-19 at the end of the last academic year, and there’s a chance they will be in the coming year. Not only that, but there’s still a certain amount of general anxiety hanging in the air after the upheaval we’ve all grown accustomed to since March 2020. When it comes to helping kids transition back into school life and all the routines that entails, there’s plenty of things we can do to manage any anxieties that may come up for them.
1. Let them know you understand
Validating your kids’ feelings is really important. If they’re feeling particularly anxious, you might find that they’re more clingy than usual, or a bit more “needy” than you usually expect them to be, but as Matt Price from Little Minds Matter explained in an Instagram Live for us back in June, this is a reminder to us that they need something from us as their “port in the storm”, their safe place.
Though it’s easy to get frustrated when this is happening, staying calm and positive, while giving them space to feel what they’re feeling, is crucial. For example, if they tell you they don’t want to go back to school, rather than saying “well you have to!” in a moment of irritation, try asking them to explain why, then present them with all the good things that come with going back. They’ll see friends, meet new teachers, do their favourite subjects, play outside at break time, go on school trips. Try to meet their concerns, but remind them of the good bits too.
2. Set the tone
Even when schools went back in the last academic year, there was still a good amount of uncertainty for both pupils and parents, so we’d wager you’ve probably got a bit of your own end of summer anxiety too. Juggling kids, work and a global pandemic is…well. You know what it is. But it’s really important we don’t let our own feelings lead the way on how we speak to our kids. If we’re obviously anxious, it’ll rub off on them. Try not to ask leading questions with a negative slant like “are you nervous about school?” because this will make them feel like there’s something to be nervous about. Act calm even when you’re not. It’s a fake it ’til you make it type approach.
3. Return of the routine
Kids love a routine. Well, everyone loves a routine, even those that say they don’t. But it’s likely that yours will have gone out of the window a bit during the summer holidays. And that’s no bad thing. As Matt Haig says, it’s good to have a “routine that’s baggy enough to live in” and the summer holidays are definitely a time for that bagginess. But as we approach the return to school, it’s good to think about bringing a bit more routine back in. This is a really good way to help kids, especially younger ones, feel more secure, because they know exactly what’s what. Plus, it won’t be such a shock when the rigidity of September rolls around.
Removing uncertainty makes anxieties more manageable. Now’s a really good time to start bringing a bit more structure back into your day if you can – set wake up times, set meal times. Wherever you can find a bit more rigidity, your anxious little ones will thank you for it.
4. Let them know you’re flexible
One of the biggest challenges of the last 18 months for parents and pupils alike has been the need to pivot to online learning or remote learning or homeschooling at the drop of a hat. While, hopefully, this won’t be needed as much in the coming months, the prospect of disruption might be weighing on your kid’s mind, so it might be worth letting them know that, whatever happens you’ve got them and you’re ready to take on any disruption that might happen together. Let your kids know that that you’re prepared for any changes that might happen and if they’re particularly anxious about any Covid/health related stuff, remind them that there are grown-ups constantly assessing whether it’s safe for them to be in school.
5. Help them think positive
When it’s presented as the only solution to a problem, thinking positive can be the mental equivalent of “brushing everything under the rug” aka toxic positivity, but when teamed with all these other techniques for managing anxiety, helping your child think more positively about their upcoming school experience is a good approach.
If their end of summer anxiety is manifesting with them being anxious about being apart from you (understandable, you’re a legend), remind them that you’ll be waiting for them at the end of the day. If they’re worried about getting sick, tell them that the teachers are looking out for them but if they do get sick, you’ll take care of them. If they’re anxious about the day-to-day school things, well. You’ve got that covered.
Try and flip any anxieties on their head by looking for other perspectives or positive outcomes. They might not feel immediately better, but they’ll know that you’ve got their back.
6. Get connected
If they’re really struggling with end of summer anxiety and the concept of being apart come school time, small transitional objects can be a really useful way for kids, especially younger ones, to feel connected and help relieve anxieties. You probably don’t want to send your kid to school with a teddybear, but a handkerchief, a stone, a button or a coin – something small that they can keep tucked away in a pocket that won’t distract them but is a piece of home – can help them feel better when things get a bit too much.
In lots of cases, the worry about going back to school will be worse than the actual going back to school. Once the first day is done and out of the way, hopefully you’ll find that any anxieties about going back are washed away and are replaced by the regular day-to-day anxieties. If you find that any end of summer anxiety is seeping into the autumn term and lasting longer than you’d hoped, it might be worth chatting to your child’s teacher for more support.
Regardless of whether their worries rumble on or are nipped in the bud once they’ve crossed the school threshold and met their pals in the playground, these techniques are useful to keep coming back to all year round.
How are you helping your kids get ready to go back to school next month?