January tends to have a different feel than the rest of the year – holidays, book reading, snippets of time to lay about, laugh and not focus too much on the clock. Our kids have similar experiences. A long break from school and a chance to break away from the rigidity of routines can give them a chance to try and just be, but as January draws to a close the conversations between parents and kids turn to the arrival of the new school year. A conversation that can be filled with a mix of excitement and anxiety.
Hannah, 13, is heading in to Year 8 at school this year. Being a seasoned professional in understanding how high school works, she notices that she has different fears to the ones she had in her younger years “in primary school my biggest worry was who was in my class, I didn’t really give a thought to the work”. But now she finds that it’s the social and the academic aspects that scare her “I worry that the new grade will be hard to keep up with and then I think about classes and teachers – I worry that there might not be anyone in my class that I know”.
Hannah has taught herself ways to manage the anxiety and in turn has shown her parents what she needs to keep the uncertainty in check “I like to be organized and plan ahead, work out timetables and try to manage the homework and the extra activities outside of school because it makes me feel like I’m not all cluttered, like I’m in control, I’m on top of everything”.
It’s easy to find ourselves asking our younger children “Who do you think you’ll have as a teacher this year? Do you think that your bestie will be in your class?” They’re common questions as the school holidays draw to a close but in the gentle prodding the questions can have a negative effect because what we are asking are unknowns, and the unknowns can create doubts and anxiety about what the new year will bring.
Denyse Whelan, Education specialist and retired School Principal (K-6) agrees that anxiety can be contagious. The transition from being at home to going to school for those starting their school career is a milestone that in some ways disturbs the bond between parent and child but, as Denyse explains, the emphasis on wistfulness might not be helpful “I know it’s tempting to feel nostalgic at this time of the year especially if the child going to school is your first one but hard as it is, limiting the ‘oh I am going to miss you so much’ is encouraged. I’ve heard of kids who have really empathized so much with the parent (mostly Mum) that they’ve been worried about her being ‘lonely’ and think they should be home”.
Denyse suggests the following tips in making the transition from school holidays to school days smoother:
The unknowns can breed uncertainty but its important for children to know that anxiety is an emotion that we all experience. Taking the time to acknowledge that the anxiety exists, that it can help us prepare for what’s happening next and that in the midst of unknowns new experiences – even something like a new grade at school – can offer the chance to learn new things, make new friends and get back to those monkey bars in the playground.
What do you notice about anxiety and your kids on the return to school?