Ways to Help Your Child Navigate School Anxiety

9 Ways to Help Your Child Navigate School Anxiety

It’s hard to believe the new school year is already upon us. As a season of new teachers, new classrooms, and new classmates approaches, kids and parents alike can begin to feel that school year anxiety creeping in. For some children, it’s an exciting time. For others, the fear surrounding these changes can be paralyzing.

How can parents help their children navigate these feelings and empower them to overcome them? Our Atlanta elementary school teachers have some valuable and practical suggestions:

1. Create a safe and supportive home base.

It’s crucial for your child to know that, despite the changes going on in their lives, home is safe and constant. Make sure your home is a place where open conversations about feelings happen often. Even though adults can also struggle with stress and anxiety, it can be difficult for children to feel that the adults in their lives are in a constant state of anxiety. They want to know that when things in the outside world seem out of control or scary, home is a safe harbor for them to return to.

2. Respect their feelings.

As parents, it can be easy to tell our children, “It’s going to be okay,” and attempt to move on. While there is nothing wrong with reassuring them, parents should be careful not to minimize or brush past the child’s feelings. Try to ask them non-leading questions about how they are feeling and why they might feel that way, then validate their feelings and save the reassuring for the end of the conversation. Also talk with your child about the situations they might encounter once school begins. Address the feelings they might feel and together decide on ways that they can respond well to the situation without letting anxiety take control.

3. Don’t avoid stressors.

While it’s important to gauge situations carefully before sending children into them, some things must be faced rather than avoided forever. School is one of those things. Rather than going from zero to sixty, try to ease your child into things by talking about their new teacher and classmates. Letting your child meet or speak with their new teacher before the first day of school might be helpful, and a classroom tour could also allow your child to better picture what their new reality will look like. Private elementary school teachers and staff typically offer greater individualized attention to students, so take advantage of that opportunity to have you and your child start building a relationship with them before school starts.

4. Model healthy stress responses.

First and foremost, children learn how to respond to stress from how they see it modeled in the home. When you’re stressed about that upcoming work project, they can tell. When you’re stressed about the in-laws coming to visit, they can tell. Rather than trying to minimize and hide stress indicators from your children, try to use these everyday situations as an opportunity to show your children that stress and anxiety are, unfortunately, a normal part of life. Be intentional about how you handle your own stress so your child can pick up on healthy responses to these feelings.

5. Practice coping strategies.

There are so many excellent coping skills that children can employ when they feel anxiety creeping in. Breathing exercises are a great way to calm the body physically. Other strategies include:

  • Visualizing a favorite place
  • Thinking about a favorite thing
  • Drinking cold water
  • Squeezing something
  • Naming animals alphabetically

The sooner you can begin teaching these to your child, the more habitual they’ll become.

Bonus Tip: Some children who struggle with separation anxiety do well with a transitional object. While they may not be able to bring their favorite teddy bear to school, there are ways that you can get creative with this method. Try giving your child a special necklace and tell them to hug it with their fingers whenever they find themselves missing you.

6. Establish a consistent routine.

We cannot stress enough the importance of a stable, consistent routine, especially for children who struggle with feelings of anxiety. Often these feelings arise out of a sense that they have no control over their lives and surroundings. This can be exacerbated when significant changes come along, such as the beginning of a new school year. Although you can’t control the classroom routine, you can do your best to create a consistent home routine. This schedule could include a set bedtime and wake-up time, a daily after-school snack, and consistent morning and evening routines.

7. Ensure they get plenty of rest.

A lack of rest is one of the biggest challenges for children facing anxiety. When bodies are tired and rundown, small issues can seem so much bigger. Additionally, when brains are focused on running with limited battery power, they’re less likely to employ coping mechanisms to regulate feelings of stress and anxiety. Ensuring your child gets plenty of uninterrupted rest is crucial to helping them overcome school year anxiety.

8. Build positive social relationships.

If your child feels nervous about the social interactions that accompany a new school year, see if you can coordinate a playdate or park day with some of the other children in your child’s class. It’s best to start small to avoid overwhelming your child, so begin with one or two other children. Knowing they’ll have a friend or two in the classroom is a great way to help your child ease their anxiety and feel excited about returning to school.

9. Celebrate achievements.

When you finally get through the morning drop-off without tears, celebrate! When your child communicates to you that they were able to use a coping strategy to ease feelings of anxiety, celebrate! Whatever the achievement, and no matter how small it may seem, it’s a step in the right direction. Positive reinforcement can go a long way in building your child’s confidence and inspiring them to keep up the good work.

School year anxiety can sometimes seem like a massive hurdle for your child, but we believe that with the intentional integration of these strategies, every child can learn to thrive in the classroom. Speak with your child’s teacher about additional strategies that can be implemented in the classroom and at home to ensure a successful and enjoyable school year for everyone.