Back to School Anxiety – What can we do to help our kids

Back to School AnxietyAnxiety – we all experience it to some degree.  Some of us are aware of it, others don’t notice it and for a growing number of people, it becomes life limiting and restrictive.

Back to School

We are now coming to the end of of the school summer holidays in England and I know that there are many children and young people out there who are feeling anxious about what lies ahead for them in September.  

The start of a new academic year is often fraught with uncertainty and pressure.  My son is about to begin his GCSE year and this brings a huge amount of pressure.  Some are about to go into the Sixth Form, some will be starting a completely new school or college and thousands of 18 years olds are off to university as we move towards October.

It’s natural therefore to assume that there is a growing wave of anxiety that is creeping into the minds of our children and young people as August comes to a close.  Certainly, I have several young clients who are expressing a nervous anxiety about what lies ahead for them as they move on to the next stage of their education.

A Desire to Help

As a parent, my instinct is to try and relieve that anxiety in my son.  And I am fortunate that as a coach, I am aware of how anxiety works and some practical steps that I can have him take that will help him (even if he doesn’t necessarily see how just yet!).

In my opinion, the best way to avoid anxiety growing into a big problem, is to understand how it works.  And to take control of the situation. 

Anxiety is (simplistically) a reaction to a situation.  Our minds react to an event, and this creates a fear which we feel as anxiety.  If we allow the mind to run and consider all worst case scenarios, the fear will grow and the anxiety will increase.

It Isn’t Just Mental

Anxiety causes a number of physical changes such as increased heart rate and an inability to think straight. And these factors simply serve to increase our anxiety further.

So we need to break the cycle.  

If you have a child or young adult who is feeling anxious about the next step they must take, here are some practical steps that you can have them take, to help get that anxiety under control.

Discuss and identify the things that are causing the anxiety.  For me, moving from primary to middle school, it was all about not knowing where the toilets were (yes really!).  For many, it is fear of the subjects or fear of the journey.  Perhaps not knowing who they will be in a class with.  

But it can be anything.  

Find out what it is – and there may be a few things – and note them down.  But remember – no judgement.  Your child must feel supported.

Practical Steps

Have a think about the practical steps that your child can take to remove the fear from these situations. 

If there is fear about getting to their new school or college, take the journey with them a few times.

If the fear is around the difficulty or content of their course, get hold of the syllabus. Set them the task of finding out about it.  Anything they can learn and understand about the subjects before they start will give them a head start once they begin their studies.  But it will also take the mystery out of the situation.  

There will always be elements of the anxiety that you cannot address in a practical way.  Issues like not knowing the teaching staff or being unsure about classmates are tricky to pin down.  So do what you can, and try to be supportive and understanding.  

Allow your child to talk about how they feel, without interruption.  And do try to avoid dismissing their anxiety as foolish or baffling.  Often, we cannot wrap our heads around why someone feels anxious about something.  It doesn’t make the anxiety any less real for the person who is experiencing it.

Stay Present

My final tip is to explain that the only moment that your child has control over is the present moment.  Unless they have a crystal ball or a different ability to look into the future, there is no way that they can accurately determine what the future looks like.

They can have a go at guessing, trying to imagine a number of scenarios. But every scenario will be just a guess. 

So your body is reacting with fear in response to a guess.  Your mind is sending signals of anxiety over what is basically fortune telling.

Work with your child to bring them to understand that by preparing to start school, by removing as much of the unknown as possible – they are doing everything they can to take control.  

I often tell myself that only if I can change the past or predict the future, will I allow myself to worry about them.  It is the way that I bring myself back to the present moment – and the only moment I can actually control!

Understanding this simple logic when I was 12, 16 or 18 would have made my childhood far less anxious!  

Do what you can to support your child and always be assured that there is support out there for you if you need it.  

If you have any tips or advice that you would like to share, comment below or contact me and if I get enough, I’ll run a blog post that brings them all together.

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