Starting school or returning to school in the New Year can be an overwhelming experience for a young child, causing what is known as school anxiety. There are so many changes, expectations and new stimulations that a young mind can easier become so full that it feels like it will burst! This experience is a normal experience and cannot be eliminated completely, however, there are some things as parent or family you can do to make it an easier and less stressful experience.

First of all let us look at what is going on from the perspective of the child:

 Holiday routine is over. They may have just settled into their holiday routine and now their routine is changing. Routine is important for a child and without it or when it changes the child often feels uncontained and stressed.

 A new routine is being established and the child and family still need to get used to it.

 There are so many new people around the child every day. This doesn’t always cause stress; it often depends on the child’s personality. However, often so many new faces can cause school anxiety. There is a new teacher, many new class mates, many a new after care person, etc.

 There are new expectations. In class there will be expectations of the child, some of these may be brand new, and some might have been previously learned but not practised during the holiday time. Uncertainty about what these expectations are or how to meet them can cause anxiety.

 Parents and siblings are not around as much. Siblings also go back to school or work and parents go back to work. This can feel like there is not the same amount of one on one contact time to the child, which makes them scared and confused.

These are a few of the things that your child may be experiencing and may not know how to express or explain them. So they act out, they refuse to go to bed, they get into fights at school, they cry a lot and they throw temper tantrums. Now whilst this behaviour is not acceptable, in this perspective it is understandable. This doesn’t mean we just let the behaviour continue with no reprimand. This will not help your young child. Instead, there are steps you can take and things you can do to help your child through this transition. Here are a few suggested things that you could do:

 Consciously think of the routine your child is expected to follow. Right from the time they wake up to when they go to bed. Write this routine down; with any related times that you know. Together with the child create a routine schedule. It could be on the computer that you print out, or you could draw and decorate one together. It should have all seven days of the week on it with all expected chores, meals, school times, extra murals, etc. It might be easier to do it yourself and then show the finished product to your child;
however, having your child part of this process will allow them to ask any questions they have about the routine, get excited about the new routine and feel a sense of confidence and control about the routine. This schedule should be placed somewhere where your child can see it each day, to help them feel secure in knowing what they need to do.

 Have a ‘chill out’ time included in their routine each day. This does not have to be a long time. It is a time for the child to choose to do something they want to do. Often during a school day they don’t often get to choose what they will do. This gives them a sense of control as well as time to enjoy in whatever play, reading, television relaxation they would like.

 Working, running a house and being a parent can be extremely tiring. However, you need to find time to engage in face to face contact with your child every day. If you don’t have time to set apart simply to sit and talk or play together then work it into your daily routine. Have your child sit and draw or help you whilst you cook, or have them help you water the garden, or fold the laundry with you. You can incorporate quality
communication time into these daily tasks. Your child will still feel that they are getting the needed attention from you.

 Talk to your child. When you are talking to them ask them direct questions about school. What are they learning? Who sits next to them? What do they do at break? How do they like their teacher? What is the hardest thing they did that day? What was the best thing they did that day? These questions can lead you into a conversation that could encourage them, motivate them, praise them and allay any fears or anxiety.

By giving your child the consistency of a new routine that they understand they will adapt and become accustomed to the new with less school anxiety and the resulting behaviour. Make sure they know you love them and they can do anything!

By Amy Pieterse