What to do if your child's anxious about going back to school

Updated: Sep 14, 2021

Many teenagers will be delighted to be back at school with the chance of regular contact with their friends and a familiar, structured environment. They’ve had a very unsettled time since March 2020, and a regular routine is an important element of helping them feel safe and secure, so getting back to “normal” will be welcomed by most. However, if your teen has enjoyed the extra time at home with the family or feels afraid of the risks of contracting Covid by mixing with more people, there’s things you can do to help them adjust.


Don’t forget, for the past eighteen months, most of your teen’s interaction has been online, so mixing with people face-to-face (whether that’s friends or teachers) may feel scary and overwhelming for some, especially those that are not naturally social. That’s OK! It can be even more daunting for those joining a new school, or perhaps moving into sixth form college. Here’s some practical ideas of what to look out for and what you can do at home to help them feel comfortable and less anxious.


 

Find out you can do at home to help your teen get the best out of their GCSE or sixth form years with The Parents' Guide to Study and Exam Revision - GCSE or Sixth Form

 

Signs to watch out for

If your teen is open in their communication with you, that’s great – you know what’s going on. If they’re less talkative, some signs that they’re anxious about being back at school may include:

  • A reluctance to go to school – perhaps even feigning illness to avoid it;

  • Irritability, either generally or in particular if you mention anything to do with school;

  • Not doing school work;

  • Avoiding talking about school and changing the subject if you mention it;

  • Lots of headaches and digestive problems (stomach aches, diarrhoea, constipation, vomiting etc);

  • Not sleeping




Get listening!

Talk to your teen so you can find out how they feel and whether anything is unsettling them. Rather than asking them if they’re OK or if something’s worrying them, which could make them clam up, talk in more general terms about good times they’ve had in the past at school, how their friends are, and what’s coming up that they might enjoy. Spend as much time as you can listening to what they have to say rather than talking yourself.


If they do express concerns, remember that their point of view may not be aligned with your priorities, so find out what’s on their mind by listening – and tempting though it may be, don’t interrupt! If you don’t have answers, don’t pretend – either admit you don’t know but will find out, or if there isn’t an answer (for example, when will we be free of Covid?) be as truthful as possible and focus on the positives. It’s not always necessary for you to have solutions to make them feel better, just being heard is sometimes enough.



Do they know their new schedule?

Make sure they are well-prepared for the new academic year by having all the practical things they need – such as uniform, sports kit and stationery, and that they have copies of their new timetable and when they should be doing homework in which subject. Whether they’re in GCSE or sixth form, this is equally important. If they’re going to a new school, make sure they know how long it will take them to get there and what the best route is.



Keeping in touch with friends

Friendship is especially important to teens, so let them keep in touch with their friends – even if that means they’re spending more time online. They may have spent most of the day together at school, but there’s bound to be things they want to go over in the evening.


For those going to new schools (or colleges) it’s important they can stay connected to friends that are not going with them – particularly early on when they have not had chance to make new friends yet.


Being online

Online resources are great for staying up-to-date and getting the latest information, but they’re also a magnet for alarmist stories and scaremongering, especially amongst social media where articles and opinions are widely shared without first checking for accuracy. Check what your teens are reading online and try to make sure they are not barraging themselves with information (or possibly misinformation) through every waking minute, as this can result in reinforcing panicky feelings.



Creating a new home routine

With their return to school, and perhaps your more regular return to the office, you’ll need to re-establish a new routine at home. Where possible, try to make sure there is some family time every day - preferably over a meal, but even a cup of tea if eating together isn’t possible. Reassure them that you are still there for them. Having a regular time to chat about each other’s day (without an agenda) makes sharing feelings easier than a “let’s sit down and talk” scenario.



Be practical

Take care of their physical health by making sure they eat well, get plenty of sleep and stay active. This can be tricky to reinforce after the long summer holidays when there’s more flexibility around bedtimes and mealtimes, but the quicker they get back into healthy the habits the better. We are heading towards the colder, shorter days of winter when they may be more susceptible to feeling tired and/or unwell, so helping them do all they can to boost their wellbeing and immune system will put them on the right track for later in the year.



Be positive

Try to keep a positive atmosphere at home. Talk about good experiences during the day, things to look forward to in the future, feel good news stories and try to make the time you have together enjoyable. If your teen is feeling anxious and concerned, a positive environment may help them enjoy the current moment and look forward to the future.




Improve their mental wellbeing

Teach them how to improve their mental health and reduce feelings of panic, with long term strategies such as by deep breathing, meditating, and spending time in a soothing environment. Use short-term fixes, such as listening to their favourite tune, watching something funny or doing something to distract them for a while (and give their mind a rest) if you need to help them reduce anxiety in the moment. Don’t forget, the aim isn’t to eliminate anxiety but to teach them how to manage it.



Keep their school informed

Regardless of whether your teen is struggling a little or a lot, notify the school so they can provide appropriate additional support. Don’t worry that problem isn’t big enough to trouble them, they will appreciate hearing your concerns and the opportunity to help early on rather than after the problem has escalated.



Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Don’t be tough on yourself and expect to have all the solutions It’s absolutely fine to call on professionals. Professional support includes more than counsellors and psychiatrists (although both these approaches can be helpful). There’s a range of options available including: teachers at school, independent counsellors at school, peer support networks and charities. You can always ask your GP for help too.


We always love to hear from you, so do let us know if there are any subjects you’d like us to chat to you about. Stay safe and keep happy,


Vanessa Green - Vanessa@theparentsguideto.co.uk


 

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