Tips for Coping with Back to School Anxiety in Kids

July 30, 2021
Tips for Coping with Back to School Anxiety

After a long and difficult year, it’s unsurprising that many little ones have some anxiety and fear around returning to school. Even if they’re excited to be back in the classroom with their friends, many routines that they’ve relied on before are no more.  


We’ve chosen some helpful tips, and books from our friends at Sourcebooks Kids, to help you guide your little one through the start of this new and unusual school year. 

 

HELP EXPRESS EMOTIONS

Checking in with your little one to see how they feel is a big deal! Often, kids struggle to express exactly how they’re feeling, and their complicated emotions can leave them reeling. Helping them identify, name, and explain their emotions can help them cope and get the real help they need.


"Even though in-person learning is usually best for their physical and mental health overall, it could take a while for them to adapt back,” says Dr. Kyle Monk, a pediatrician at Cedars-Sinai. “Kids are resilient, but they also have emotions without the maturity to process those emotions in a healthy way.”  

 

I Feel... Series for KidsI Feel... Series for Kids

SUGGESTED READING: I Feel... series

The I Feel... series helps kids recognize, express, and deal with the roller coaster of emotions they feel. It has been celebrated by therapists, psychologists, teachers, and parents as a wonderful tool to help develop self-awareness – and the educational back matter for adults has tons of activities and prompts to guide these often difficult conversations. 

[Amazon] [Barnes & Noble] [Sourcebooks] 

 

ESTABLISH ROUTINES

Every school has their own rules and safety precautions. Your little one’s familiar classroom space may be a completely different place now. Some friends will have masks that they choose to wear, and some may be much further away in their chair during lessons.  


While you can’t control what happens in the classroom, you can establish a routine in the mornings with clearly defined goals that sets your kid up for success. By the time you’re headed out the door, they’ll have accomplished their morning tasks and established a comfortable rhythm to the start of their day. The familiarity of routine and the comfort of praise for tasks completed can help their transition.


“Many kids have difficulty with transitions […] and the morning is all about transitions done under a hard and fast deadline,” an article from the Child Mind Institute points out. “Provide your child with simple, well-defined, and easy steps for her routine so that she has a clear idea of what you expect..."

 

Cover of the Sesame Street kid's book Heroes Wear MasksCover of the Sesame Street kid's book Heroes Wear Masks

SUGGESTED READING: Heroes Wear Masks

In Heroes Wear Masks, Elmo and his mommy help children calm school anxiety and understand new and different routines they may experience. Topics include: wearing a mask, anxiety about leaving home, washing hands frequently, not being able to give hugs or high-fives to friends, why some friends may not be at school, temperature checks, and new classroom seating arrangements. 

[Amazon] [Barnes & Noble] [IndieBound] [Sourcebooks] 

 

TEACH CALMING TECHNIQUES

Whether it's anxiety about separation and changing of routines, or simply negative thoughts they encounter everyday during play, you can help kids cope and chase those thoughts away through calming exercises. As mentioned above, giving them the vocabulary and courage to express how they feel can go a long way and there are other easy tricks they can use if anxiety gets in the way - such as breathing exercises.

 

Stephanie Richardson, a Social Work Team Leader in the Emergency Department at Children's Health, told Childrens.com, "Children can use deep breathing to help them throughout the day, whether they're feeling overwhelmed or anxious, need to relax or go to sleep, to calm their body after exercising, or even just to pause and reset when they are high energy."

 

Cover of the book Too Many BubblesCover of the book Too Many Bubbles

SUGGESTED READING: Too Many Bubbles

When bad thoughts are persistent and won't go away, it can be tough to make it through the day. Through vibrant illustrations and light interactivity, Too Many Bubbles encourages kids to take a mindful deep breath when they have too many thoughts overshadowing them.

[Amazon] [Barnes & Noble] [IndieBound] [Sourcebooks

 

ENCOURAGE EMPATHY

Even if your little one is excited to get back into the classroom and isn’t experiencing any back to school anxiety themselves, some of their friends and classmates might need some time to adjust. Explaining anxiety to kids is a tough task and many will want to help their friends “get better.” Talking to them about how they can help is empowering and their understanding can help put their peers at ease. 


“Without someone making a deliberate effort to draw them out,” says Veronica Salgado, who runs a “transitional camp” helping kids get back to school, “...many remote learners will not simply bounce back into the social rhythms of school.” 

 

Cover of the book It Will Be OKCover of the book It Will Be OK

SUGGESTED READING: It Will Be OK 

When a spider comes near, Giraffe is seized by an uncontrollable fear and he simply cannot move past it, despite how silly it seems. His best friend, Zebra, patiently talks to Giraffe and does the very best thing that he can do: supports Giraffe for as long as Giraffe needs it. Anxiety comes in many forms, but this sweet picturebook shows kids that their support and patience goes a long way in helping their friends cope.

[Amazon] [Barnes & Noble] [IndieBound] [Sourcebooks

 

The most important things to remember are communication and caring - being open about how you feel will encourage kids to do the same. As long as your little one feels loved and supported by you, they'll feel there's nothing they can't do!

 

Be happy, safe, and healthy,
Your Friends at Put Me in the Story 

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