Helping Your Anxious Child Navigate Back to School with Confidence

Elizabeth Spencer

The back-to-school season can be an exciting time for many children, but for those struggling with anxiety, it can be an overwhelming and stressful experience.

As a parent, you play a crucial role in supporting your anxious child and helping them navigate this transition with confidence. As two therapists specializing in treating Anxiety Disorders who are also parents, we have come up with practical strategies to empower your child and make their return to school a positive and successful one.

  1. Open Communication:

Establishing open lines of communication with your child is essential. Encourage them to express their fears and concerns about returning to school. Actively listen without judgment and validate their emotions. By creating a safe space for them to share their thoughts, you can better understand their anxiety triggers and tailor your support accordingly.

  1. Encourage Bravery in Facing Anxiety Triggers:

Teach your child the importance of recognizing that while anxiety feels terrible, it is not dangerous.  Help your child find opportunities to practice being brave – do something challenging as a family like going on a roller coaster, watching lightning together with the curtains open, or playing a new board game.  Model your willingness to get out of your comfort zone and be brave.

  1. Work with School Staff:

Collaborate with your child’s teacher and school staff to ensure they understand your child’s anxiety and can provide appropriate support. Share insights about your child’s anxiety triggers and any accommodations they may need at the start of the school year. Keep in mind that the goal will be to gradually phase out accommodations during the school year as the student learns they can handle anxiety triggers successfully. Maintain open lines of communication throughout the school year to address any concerns promptly.

  1. Set Realistic Expectations:

If your child had a hard time with the start of school in prior years, aim for this year to be better in specific ways, like being on time for the bus, but recognize that for an anxious child, some anxious moments are likely. Normalize that and celebrate what your child accomplishes while they are anxious. Help your child set realistic expectations for themselves academically, emotionally, and socially. Remind them that it’s okay to make mistakes and that learning is a process. Encourage them to focus on personal growth and progress rather than striving for perfection. By setting realistic expectations, you alleviate unnecessary perfectionism, foster a positive mindset, and build resilience.

  1. Foster Social Connections:

Anxiety can make it challenging for children to build and maintain social connections. Encourage your child to join extracurricular activities or clubs where they can meet like-minded peers with similar interests. Help them practice social skills through role-playing and provide guidance on initiating conversations and making friends.

  1. Celebrate Achievements:

Acknowledge and celebrate your child’s achievements, no matter how small. Recognize their efforts to bravely face anxiety, resilience when things don’t go well, and progress and growth throughout the school year. Positive reinforcement boosts their self-esteem and encourages them to continue overcoming challenges with confidence.

Helping your anxious child navigate the back-to-school period requires patience, empathy, and understanding. By employing these strategies and offering unwavering support as they practice being brave, you can empower your child to overcome their anxiety and approach the new school year with confidence. With your guidance, they can embrace the opportunities that education brings while developing valuable skills to manage anxiety throughout their lives.

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