During my entire school life I was the anxious child kicking and screaming in the mornings, the child who would be inconsolable and have anxiety attacks over the thought of going to school. I was the child who cried and clung to their Mum and refused to join in at parties, school discos and would point blank refuse to go on school trips.
I was diagnosed with separation anxiety at just 2 years old after beginning nursery and remember my first panic attack as young as 8 years old. This was a pattern that continued throughout my school life. My year 2 teacher affectionately referred to me as Limpet because I would cling to my Mum so tightly, just like her daughter had, her.
- Talk to the school about your child’s anxieties, they won’t be the only nervous one but making the school aware of the details will help them to make your child feel more at ease
- Role play schools, explore their worries and show them all of the fun things they will love about going to school
- Read books about starting school. The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn is a good one.
- Go and visit the school a few times during the holidays, you won’t be able to get in obviously but seeing the school in the flesh whilst in less stressful and normal setting will help your child feel more relaxed. Point out bits you can see and talk about any parts of the playground or building that stand out. You can then use these as talking points for the actual day to make your child feel more at ease.
- Talk about the teachers and who will be your child’s class teacher, get your child to draw them and stick the drawing up to familiarise them with a new face. A lot of school websites have actual photographs of the teachers which can also help.
- A sticker chart or similar can also help if your child responds to reward charts. A sticker for every day they go in with a gift at the end of the week. I used to collect cute erasers and my Mum would give me one after school. Those and scented gel pens!
- Writing a letter or card to your child for when they come out of school can also be helpful, this was something my Mum did for me. I still have one of these and treasure it even after all these years. (I say all these years, I’m only 26 haha)
- Draw a heart on your child’s hand and one on yours, when my daughter was going through a rough patch at school I did this and told her that every time she felt worried or scared to look at her hand and know that I was always thinking of her and giving her my strength if she needed it and we may be apart for now but we are connected by our hearts. This was an idea I found on Pinterest a couple of years ago and I just think it’s such a wonderful idea.
- Write a little note in their lunch or if they can’t read quite yet a little heart will do just as well.
- Get them a worry doll. I was an incredibly anxious child and I remember having these. You take a doll and tell it your worry, pop it under your pillow as you sleep and the worry will go away.
- If your child is very anxious then talk to the school about getting the schools SECO (Special Educational Needs Organiser) involved. They will be invaluable in helping your child adjust and coming up with ways to make the transition much easier in the short term or long term.
- If you are worried about your child’s mental health, whether they’re 4 or 14 then speak to your doctor about a referral to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) who will be able to work on a more professional level to help you and your child deal with childhood anxiety.
- Encourage your child to write a diary and include the things they enjoyed as well as what they struggled with. You can use the positives to look back on with them as a reminder that actually, school isn’t all that bad when they’re actually there and that they can overcome their struggles. Getting thoughts down on paper can also be quite therapeutic for your child. Writing down how they are feeling before and after school can also be quite helpful as most children are happy as Larry by the time it’s home time. Looking back over these whenever they’re feeling anxious to reassure them that they’ll be okay.
- If mornings are very stressful then speak to the school about you bringing your child in slightly earlier and delivering them straight to their class teacher or TA. This can help your child separate from you in a more relaxed environment and without the bedlam that is a normal drop off.
- Give the school a ring at break or lunchtime. This will help put your mind at ease because 9/10 they will have calmed down and be fine 5 minutes after you leave.
Every single child is different, every single child has different strengths just like us adults and adjusting to school life is hard and sometimes, kids take just that little bit longer to settle in. It is not your fault and you haven’t done anything wrong, you are not a failure and your child doesn’t hate you. They are not bad or a problem that needs to be fixed, they just need time, and understanding and love.
I promise you that there are many, many more parents than you think going through the exact same thing right now; you are not alone and neither is your child. You are a wonderful bad ass parent and your child loves you even if you don’t feel it as you peel their little hands off your jumper with tears streaming down both of your faces. You will both get through this. I promise.