Back to School: How To Calm Your Anxious Child

by | Aug 23, 2022 | Family, Mental Health, School, Tips

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The first few days of school can be challenging and frightening for your child who is already anxious. And, as their parent, you stress about what may happen during the school day because you are not there. You want to know how to calm your anxious child.

There are certain things to expect the first few days of school when you have an anxious child. These are not bad things or good things, but reality. Many kids are anxious the first few days of school. This is typical and very normal. Preparing for it will help your child and you! 

True story- I remember putting my preschooler on the bus with his older siblings and being terrified about whether he would know which stop to get off.  He was going to a different school than his brother and sister. Well, it happened! He got off on the wrong stop and ended up at the other preschool, not the one he was supposed to be at.

Mom and son, leaving for school, calm your anxious child

I did not find this out until after the school day was over. He went in the wrong preschool. He was crying, but he told a teacher his name and they figured out where he was supposed to go. The bus brought him to the right school. He came home and acted like nothing had happened.

I would not have know until his sister told me and the bus company called me. He knew his first and last name and could communicate it to the adults so they could figure out where he was supposed to be. WOW!

I still get sad when I think about, but I couldn’t have changed anything. And more importantly he was safe and used the skills he had (at age 4) to help figure it out. 

 

Stuff Happens

It is normal to get nervous for our kids. Especially when it’s a new activity or event or school year.

Anytime your child is having a new experience without us, it creates some anxiousness. This means we care about our kids. Some of the questions I ask about my anxious child are:

  • Who are they going to sit by in class?
  • Are they going to have friends in class?
  • If they get upset, what will they do?
  • Who will they go to if they get upset?
  • Who are they going to sit by at lunch?
  • What if they don’t have anyone to sit with at lunch?
  • How will they feel if they don’t have anyone?
  • Who will they play with at recess?
  • What if they don’t have anyone to play with at recess?
Mom hugging girl as she boards bus

I was nervous, especially the first few days. My husband reassured me that everything would be okay. He said that we prepared our kids. As their mom, I still had butterflies and thought about how they were doing. I will say, it all worked out and they handled it better than I did.

 

CAUSES OF BEING ANXIOUS THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL

Some things that cause kids to be anxious the first few days of school are:

  • New teacher
  • New classroom
  • Lunch
  • Recess
  • Unknown routine
  • Riding the bus
  • Not having friends in their class
  • Not having the tools they need in class
  • Having to read aloud
  • Having to answer a question in front of the class
Dad walking girl to school

 

At Home

The first few days may be a struggle at home. There are many ways your child may respond the first few days of school to feeling anxious. You can calm your anxious child, but you need to know a few things. 

Here are a few ways they may struggle.

 

  1. Trouble getting out of bed.
  2. Refusing to get on the bus.
  3. Trouble getting homework done.
  4. Not able to open up to you.
  5. To stay awake.
  6. By having a meltdown when they get home.
  7. Lack of patience.
  8. Lack of appetite.
  9. Express frustration/sadness about not having any friends.

 

At School

Some of the same reactions, of being anxious, that you see at home may be seen at school too. 

For example, your child may be very tired at school and fall asleep. Remember they are not used to having to stay focused for that length of time. So the first few days are exhausting. Many kids fall asleep or get tired during the day.

Sometimes kids that are already anxious about school have a meltdown or get easily upset. Don’t be surprised to get a phone call from the teacher just letting you know what happened. They are contacting you to share what happened so that they can support your child during this time. It is not a bad thing to get a call from the teacher. It just means they care. They want to help you calm your anxious child.

One emotion that is seen the first few days of school is crying. There are usually a lot of tears. They are sad to be away from their parents or their siblings.

One more reaction may be that your child is alone and not reaching out to meet other kids in the class. For some kids it takes time for them to feel comfortable to play with other kids. That is also okay for the first few days of school. 

     

    Prepare Your Child

    The best way to support your child before the first few days of school is to prepare them for those days. 

    • Setting up a routine at home before school begins. Having a set bedtime benefits your child and provides them the sleep needed to be successful at school.
    • Contact the teacher beforehand to let them know your child is anxious about school. Do this either by phone or set up a separate time to meet, not at open house.
    • Talk to your child about how they are feeling. What emotions are they feeling? Let them know you are here to help them. Reassure them that you are going to be home for them. Practice different scenarios with your child before the first day of school.
    • Plan play dates before school begins. Try to plan playdates with one or two of the kids in your child’s class. This way they will have a familiar face right away. Or if they have a teacher or adult at school from the previous school year, contact that person. Have the person meet up with your child the first day. Have that person meet your child when they get off the bus. 

     

    Prepare Yourself

    It’s also important to prepare yourself for the first week of school. Know that it will be challenging and different because it’s new. There will be bumps because it is new.

    Give yourself some grace because you cannot fix everything or predict what is going to happen. Talk to the teacher, school staff and friends for support.

    More importantly, have tools to use to help you. Some tools may be breathing techniques, journaling, taking time for you. The more you remain calm and supportive for your child the more calm they will be.

    It’s new for everyone so most people are a little anxious. It’s also important to prepare yourself for the first week of school.

    Know that it will be challenging and different because it’s new. There will be bumps because it is new. Give yourself some grace because you cannot fix everything or predict what is going to happen.

    Overall, the key to helping your child have the best first few days of school as possible is to set them up before hand with tools they can use when feeling anxious.

    Remind yourself that this is temporary and that they will get familiar with school. Make sure to take time to sit down and listen to your child. Give them your undivided attention.

    Don’t try to fix the situation, but help them to problem solve how to make it better. What is in their control and what is not. Allow them the space to process their feelings. 

    If you feel like it is not getting better, reach out to the teacher to find out what other resources care available at school. Some schools have school counselors or student advocates to support kids who are having anxious feelings. 

     

     

    Back To School: How To Calm Your Anxious child

    By Dr. Kim Grengs, Ed.D., Parent Coach

     

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