Dealing with parental anxiety about your child starting school

Heading back to school after the summer holiday can be a tricky adjustment at the best of times, for children and parents alike. However, this year the nation has witnessed an unprecedented flurry of added concerns that could exacerbate back to school blues.

From staggered start times, social distancing measures and general worries of safety and welfare, there are a host of concerns that are bound to cause you added stress and anxiety over your child starting school.

With the new morning routine starting to take shape, we’ve compiled our top tips to help deal with parental anxiety about sending your child to school.

Covid-19 and returning to school

While children are likely to experience back to school nerves, it is not just the younger members of the family that could experience worries surrounding the start of the new term.

As the nation continues to adjust amid the COVID-19 pandemic and finding its ‘new normal’, parents across the country will be wrestling with added dilemmas surrounding their child’s return to the classroom.

Coronavirus health concerns coupled with social distancing rules, new strict school regulations, staggered start and finish times and school bubbles are likely causing additional angst when it comes to sending your child back to school.

The following tips may help alleviate any COVID-19 returning to school concerns:

  • Ensure you are signed up to any school email/text notifications to receive regular school notifications and updates.
  • Contact school staff should you have any concerns.
  • Keep your child at home if they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Once they have returned home from school, ensure their hands are washed thoroughly according to government guidelines.

Separation anxiety

Separation anxiety occurs when a child experiences distress when separated from parents or caregivers, but it can be experienced by parents too.

Returning to school and entering a new environment can be a challenge, and it is common for your child to experience separation anxiety, particularly if they have reached a milestone, like starting pre-school or Year R.

A significant trigger of separation anxiety in children is related to fear of the unknown, and that children have no idea what to expect. While it is important to treat the first day back as a new adventure, there are several ways to help overcome separation anxiety when your child starts school.

How to ease separation anxiety in children

The following tips could help ease separation anxiety in children surrounding their new back to school routine:

  • Remind them of new school routines. Consistently reminding your child of new routines, such as new break times, any new friends they have made, and who will be there to pick them up after school, will help ease them into school life. 

  • Align expectations. It is important to encourage your child when they first start school, however, making promises out of your control (like how many friends your child will make) could make for a scary experience, rather than a happy and exciting adventure. 

  • Set up playdates. New classes come with the chance to make new friends. Once you are able to, arranging safe playdates with your child’s new friends could be a great way to ease any initial separation anxiety.

  • Create a ritual. A goodbye routine will give your child comfort and help them feel good as you wave them off each morning. Whether it is a special hug, a phrase or an action, creating a familiar morning ritual as you say goodbye could help your child feel more prepared for what’s to come.

  • Loving reminders. Remind your child that you will always return to pick them up. This will reinforce the message that you will return after their school day and instil reassurance in your child’s mind.

  • Reward systems. A reward system could be a good way to encourage positive behaviour whilst also making your child feel good. Tailoring this to end of week treats depending on how they cope with their back to school routine could be a technique to consider.

How to ease separation anxiety in parents

If you are experiencing anxiety about sending your child to school, the main thing to be aware of is that this feeling is completely normal.

Here are some tips to help alleviate your anxieties about your child starting school:

  • Talk to other adults. Discussing your anxieties with other adults, such as friends, your partner and other parents could help. Sharing your concerns and experiences with other parents could let you in on certain strategies they have used to help with their children. Discussing your anxieties with other parents and close friends will enable them to support you and make you feel reassured. 

  • Get to know the teacher. While you have likely gotten to know your child’s teacher already, a good way to relieve any back to school anxiety is to continually make efforts to have conversations with them. Whether it is a quick chat in the playground or a longer conversation during parents’ evening, getting to know the person who is educating your child could help alleviate any concerns you have around them starting school.

  • Friendly reminders. We mentioned above about the importance of creating a morning ritual. While this is beneficial to your child, there is a mutual benefit in that this could help you, too. A special goodbye could help, or you could create friendly reminders of each other to hold onto throughout the day. A handmade bracelet or necklace, or a picture you keep in your handbag or on your work desk is a great way for you both to feel comforted and less anxious throughout the day until you are reunited.

Does your child have anxiety about going to school or is struggling to deal with separation anxiety? We have compiled some advice to help you support them, read our blog post: 10 ways to help a child with anxiety about school