September has come and gone, autumn is well and truly here and the new school year is well underway. This ‘returning to school’ period can be a time that brings up many mixed emotions, for both children and parents. A new academic year, new environments, new faces, and new pressures can create both excitement and anxiety. As human beings, we are not good with change, which can lead to feelings of anxiety.
This ‘back to school anxiety’ and can be experienced by parents as well as children. For example, we might find that our children going back to school triggers certain thoughts, feelings or memories about our own experiences of school. If these were wholly positive, then we might transfer this to our children through excitement for their new beginning. If these experiences were difficult, then we might feel anxious about what our child may face, which can be unintentionally transferred to them.
Furthermore, the significant level of organisation required for our child to start school again can also cause anxiety. Balancing getting back into the school routine, fitting the routine around work, ensuring homework is completed and remembering letters or special school days and events, can feel like a whole other job in itself! Feeling anxious in response to this is understandable.
This anxiety may not stop once the initial returning to school period has been accomplished. This may simply be because the tasks, errands, jobs and confrontation with our own personal experiences, do not necessarily stop – they can continue as our child continues to progress into the academic year. It is therefore important to recognise ways that we can help reduce this anxiety as the year progresses.
Ways to manage parental ‘back to school’ anxiety:
- Expressing yourself – Find a way to express your thoughts, feelings and emotions. Externalising what we are feeling can help to reduce it. Some examples include: journaling, painting, drawing, mind-dumping, dancing to music, exercise.
- Open communication – Maintaining open communication with your child about their school day can help reduce any anxiety-driven questions or fears we may have.
- Filling your day – Ensure that you are keeping yourself busy throughout the day with activities that provide you with a sense of accomplishment and positivity. This can help reduce hours spent worrying about how your child’s day may be going, and support your mood.
- Mantras – Positive self-talk, such as positive mantras, can help ground us and soothe our anxiety by reminding us of the rational reality of the situation. Try repeating statements such as; ‘when I was at school I felt (emotion), but that does not mean that (child) will experience this too’ and ‘everyone’s experience is different’. ‘If (child) does experience that, then I will have the insight in how to best support (child)’.
- Self-compassion – Be kind to yourself. Feeling anxious around your child going to school, whether their age, is completely understandable. It is a parental instinct to want to protect and anxiety can be a result.