It’s that time of year again when we welcome back over 42,000 students into our OCSB classrooms. While there are many children who look forward to the start of school, others may be experiencing anxiety from those back-to-school butterflies. Keeping an open dialogue with your child will go a long way in helping your child feel great about their upcoming school year. Remember that your child’s teacher and school principal are also incredibly valuable resources in creating proactive solutions for your child’s success. The school-home partnership is key. We’ve assembled some tips to help you and your child prepare for the start of another school year.
Set a positive tone to help your child feel good about school. If you, as a parent, are anxious about your child going to school, your child may pick up on that. Try to express enthusiasm and confidence about their upcoming adventure. Allow them to have control over certain aspects of back-to-school planning, like what clothes they want to wear on the first day, or what kind of sandwich they like in their lunch. Put a little note of encouragement in their snack or lunch.
If your child is feeling anxious, you may often notice it by observing changes in their behaviours, sleep patterns or appetite. If they become quiet when they’re usually outgoing, or if they start acting out when they are usually quiet, it could be a sign that they are masking their feelings or fears. Ask them about their feelings. You may need to prompt them by asking if they are feeling worried about starting or returning to school.
Review basic safety rules for taking the bus or walking to school such as looking before crossing the street, remaining seated until the bus comes to a full stop, not talking too loudly so the bus driver can concentrate. Take them on a walk or drive to their school. Show them where the bus will drop them off at school and where they go in the yard. Reducing unknown factors is always a great way of reducing feelings of anxiety! Asking the child of a neighbour to accompany your child on the bus until they are comfortable may also be helpful. Try to be enthusiastic and positive about the school experience. Remember, your child will take their cues from you.
Reassure your child that being anxious or having “butterflies” is normal. If you can find out what in particular is causing them to feel anxious, you can help them problem-solve different solutions. Encourage them to find solutions to help build self-confidence. Experts agree: all through the year, keep your child talking about school by asking open-ended questions. Let them know how you may have also struggled at school and share strategies that helped you. If they have an older sibling who experienced some of these same concerns, enlist their support in speaking with their brother or sister.
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Teaching your child strategies when they are calm will allow them to develop skills they can use when upset. Help your child identify a familiar, caring adult in the school they can turn to if upset at school. Practice deep-breathing or relaxation exercises. Practice positive self-talk. Encourage using art, physical activity, or journaling for stress reduction. Kids Help Phone has also created a very useful back-to-school guide.
Kids Help Phone’s ultimate back-to-school guide
- Keep in touch: over the summer, try to stay in touch with your friends to maintain your relationships. This way, things may seem a little more familiar when you go back to school.
- Prepare early: write a list and prepare your back-to-school essentials at the start of the summer instead of the end to avoid the rush.
- Refresh your memory: try to practice the things you learned last year while you’re on summer vacation. Reading, writing and applying your math skills can be fun and rewarding.
- Sleep smart: in the weeks leading up to your first day, try going to bed earlier each night — and getting up earlier each morning — to help your body adjust to a new schedule.
- Visit your school: many schools are open the week before school starts. You can always contact your school, book an appointment, tour the halls and meet your teachers if you need to.
- Know the route: no matter what method of transportation you use to get to school, it’s a good idea to test out the route so you know exactly how to get to class and how long it will take.
- Prep your meals: if you bring a lunch to school, consider taking some time to pack it the night before instead of in the morning.
- Organize your closet: figure out what you’re going to wear on the first day in advance so you’re not stressed about finding something to put on when you wake up in the morning.
- Pack your bags: if you’re taking a backpack to school, fill it with whatever school supplies you have (pens, pencils, notebook, agenda, etc.) well before your first day so you’re ready to get up and go.
- Stay busy: make the most of summer to keep your mind off the back-to-school blues. For example, you could try taking up a new sport or hobby.
Get support: it’s common to feel nervous about the first day of school. If you need to talk, you can always call a Kids Help Phone counsellor at 1-800-668-6868.
Dr. Elizabeth Paquette is the Mental Health Lead for the OCSB. She has been with the Board for 30 years, and is a registered psychologist with an expertise in school psychology.