Back to school worries

It’s that time of year again, when your children have been off school for more than a couple of days and they’re getting ready to return.  Do they get the dreaded Sunday night feeling?  Does it last longer than just an evening, does the build up start days before?

The return to school can bring up a lot of unwanted and unhelpful feelings; anxiety, stress and nervousness to name a few. 

I know when I was a child I used to get myself into a terrible state at the end of a holiday.  It would usually start around lunchtime on Sunday and gradually get worse throughout the day.  The feelings would build until I didn’t know how to cope with them as I lay awake staring at the ceiling, wishing for numerous horrible things to happen to me before Monday morning came around.  It would usually result in many trips downstairs, explaining fake illnesses, huge spiders in my room or a visit from the monster under the bed.

If this is something that sounds familiar to you, here’s a couple of tips to help you help your child:

Help them understand the feelings they’re dealing with

Help your child identify and accept the feelings they’re feeling.  Unfortunately many of us have become programmed to brush over uncomfortable feelings:  “cheer up”, “don’t cry”, “smile”, “don’t be miserable you’ve got a lot to be grateful for” are some of the most common phrases we use.  Have you ever been able to instantly cheer up the moment someone has told you to do so?  I’m guessing not, because when you’re dealing with complicated heavyweight feelings it’s really tough to turn them off on demand.  All these comments do is diminish some really strong important feelings and cause us to believe the person handing out the advice doesn’t really care. 

The more we understand the role of our feelings as children the more we’re able to deal with them as adults.  So what can we do to help our children understand their feelings more?  The first step is getting them to identify the feeling and understand why it’s there.  For example, they may feel worried about going back to school because they don’t know what’s going to happen, the work’s going to be too hard or their friends may have forgotten about them over the holidays. To you they may seem like insignificant feelings, after all, they will find out what’s going to happen, they will be able to do the work when they practice and you know their friends will still want to be their friends but in their model of the world these are real problems.   

So, empathise and acknowledge the reasons and give them the opportunity to talk it through.  Ask questions to help them draw their own conclusions and ask them which other feelings might be able to help them more in this situation.  Worried is a great feeling to have around to identify a problem but it’s not great at helping find solutions.  You could then help them identify a more helpful feeling like confident or calm. has some great resources on helping primary age children manage their feelings in difficult situations.

Help them utilise the confidence within

Every child will have discovered the feeling of confident at some point in their life,even if they didn’t recognise it as confidence, so help them to tap into the same thoughts and feelings they experienced previously.  This can be even more effective if they tie it to a posture or action, for example get them to walk in a really confident way or do a really confident pose.  As they carry out the action, ask them to think of a time in the past when they’ve felt absolutely confident they could do something, take them back to that time in their mind (asking them what they could see, hear, feel and were thinking).  Do this earlier in the day or even a few days before, then practice it before bedtime and again in the morning before school.  The action will instantly flood them with the feelings of confidence whenever they carry it out.

If your child really cannot think of a time in the past when they’ve felt confident then you can help them develop it.  One of the fastest and easiest ways for many people to change state is through music.  Choose a confident song and get them to dance and do confident looking moves to the music.  You may need to lead the way with this, so be prepared to have some fun doing some superman/bodybuilder power poses.  Then play this music back to them when they need an extra boost of confidence.  It could, for example, be playing in the car on the way to school.  Use this opportunity to build on the poses and singing. They’ll be so busy singing and posing the worried feelings will diminish.

Both of these tips can be used a few days  in advance of the return to school and on the morning before school.

Your child will probably return from their first day back full of the joys of the day, desperate to share their fun stories with you.  If this is the case, capitalise on it, ask them to write down all of these great activities and feelings onto post-it notes and stick them on the wall or a board.  This activity can be done every day or as an end of week activity.  Get them into the habit of recording positive school reminders so they’re able to reflect back on them if the unhelpful feelings pop up in the future.

More more support with back to school or exam worries email or call on 07747 090871.  Debbie provides 1:1, school and parent support in and around Derbyshire.