10 ways to help a child with anxiety about school

The back to school routine can be tricky at the best of times for parents and children alike. However, the government guidelines surrounding returning to school and COVID-19 present an unforeseen layer of added concerns that could make your child experience anxiety about going to school.

From the staggered start and pick up times, social distancing measures, and a completely new routine, there are plenty of factors which could make your child feel more anxious than usual.

If your child has anxiety about going to school or is dealing with separation anxiety, we have compiled some advice to help you support them, alleviate their concerns, and ease their anxiety.  

How to help a child with anxiety about school 

1.) Communicate and ask questions

Ask your child what is on their mind and what is worrying them. Focus on listening to their concerns and providing solid emotional support. By reassuring them that you can work through any issues together, this should be a good starting point to alleviating some of their initial concerns.

2.) Embrace change

Take the time to sit down with your child to discuss what changes and adjustments could be made at school, in their daily routine or at home to help reduce any anxiety they might be feeling. Whilst change can be daunting, embracing this and considering alternatives could help alleviate some of their anxiety.

3.) Reach out to their school Taking the initiative and reaching out to your child's school as soon as possible can avoid issues building up and makes your son or daughter’s teacher aware of the troubles they are experiencing. Communicating with the school enables you to work closely with your child’s teacher, form tutor or wider key staff to help improve the situation.

4.) A regular morning routine

Establishing a regular morning routine will help your child feel safe and secure. From getting up at the same time each morning to having breakfast and leaving the house, a routine around these activities can help create a sense of security. For older children, completing activities like morning exercise or listening to an appropriate podcast or music may also help set their morning up for a positive start and alleviate anxiety about the day ahead.

5.) Journalling

Starting a journal can be a great technique to relieve anxiety and get any internal worries onto a page. If your child is feeling severe anxiety whilst at school, starting a worry journal might alleviate this. They can carry the journal with them in their bag and write down any thoughts or worries that come to them throughout the school day. Getting their thoughts out of their mind and onto a page will make them feel more in control, secure and prevent the anxiety from becoming overwhelming. The journal also acts as a reference point should you wish to go through it with them after school.

6.) Self-soothe and worry boxes

Self-soothe and worry boxes can help both younger and older children to tackle their anxieties about going to school.

If your child is younger, you could take a shoebox or cereal box and set out a ‘worry time’, a specific period where your child can write down what they are feeling most anxious about and post it in the box. The idea is that by posting the worry and placing the lid on the box, they are psychologically agreeing to place the anxiety away and not worry about it any longer that day.

Self-soothe boxes can be useful for older children too. These boxes could contain a range of items to manage feelings and help the individual feel more grounded, such as positive affirmation cards, calming perfumes or scents, memories, or mindfulness exercises.

7.) Expressing strategies

If your child has anxiety around going to school, discuss strategies with them that will help them express their worries and manage them effectively. From listening to music and drawing, spending time with friends or family or reading, identifying a specific activity can help your child express and channel their anxiety in an effective way.

How to help a child with separation anxiety at school

Separation anxiety occurs when a child experiences distress when separated from parents or primary caregivers.

It is common for your child to experience separation anxiety related to school, particularly if they have reached a milestone, like starting a new year or mixing with a new class and entering an unfamiliar environment.

Here are several tips to help overcome separation anxiety surrounding going to school.

1.) Rewards

A reward system could be a good way to encourage positive behaviour for children of all ages, whilst also making them feel good and at ease. Depending on how they cope with their separation anxiety surrounding school, try tailoring the reward system to end of week treats after a school week is complete.

2.) Reminders

No matter the age of your child, creating a loving reminder they can carry them throughout the school day will connect them to you and evoke positive feelings. It could be a friendship bracelet or pin badge, favourite lunchbox item, special hair band or scrunchie or even a photograph to keep in their backpack.

3.) Create a ritual

Goodbye rituals, regardless of the age of your child, are a good way to give them comfort and help them feel good at the start of the day. Whether it is a particular breakfast, or a special hug or action, creating a comforting morning ritual could help them feel more prepared and help tackle separation anxiety before they head off to school.

Are you feeling anxious about your child starting school? Read our blog post: Dealing with parental anxiety about a child starting school.