How to support back to school anxieties

Illustration of child at school with head in their hands

NHS England’s top doctor for children and young people’s mental health has urged parents to be alert to signs that children could be experiencing anxiety, distress or low mood as pupils return to school after lockdown and the summer holidays.

This is a very uncertain time and although it would be great if we could make COVID disappear- we can’t (not yet anyway). Children, like us adults, must learn to tolerate some uncertainty! This skill can help us to manage anxiety.

Here are a few ways in which you can support children with back to school anxieties.

Different experiences

It’s important to remember that children have had hugely different experiences during lockdown and the summer holidays. Some children who experience anxiety normally, may have found a break from going to school, a break from triggers for their anxiety. For them going back to school is going to be very anxiety provoking.

There are other children who have had a great time with families and don’t want to return to school. And then of course there are many children who have been in family situations with lots of arguing, and possibly violence and neglect who will find getting back to school a refuge. Do not assume that you know how children feel.

Modelling calmness

As a parent, you may be concerned about sending your child back to school in light of the Covid-19 risk. This is understandable and you may have good reasons for wanting to keep your child at home for longer. But it’s useful to be aware of how you model your own anxiety when speaking to your child about returning to school. Speak to your child when you feel calm yourself.

We don’t have all the answers

It’s ok to not have the answers. In fact, it’s better not to pretend that you know.

It’s very tempting to give lots of reassurance to your child, as it may relieve anxiety in the short term. In the long term it can cause the anxiety to persist. Instead, listen and ask them what they think about going back to school. If they have any back to school anxieties, ask them what they think will help.

At Nip in the Bud we have created a library of free resources about how to cope with back to school anxieties.

Watch our short film to learn more or read our tips and advice for parents and teachers.