By Angie Laussel, Child and Family Therapist
The long, hot summer school holidays, with the smell of sunscreen, the sound of backyard cricket and the sticky aftermath of ice-cream, are coming to a close. It’s late January, and children and parents across Australia are readying themselves for the new school year. Some children and young people are SO bored they can’t wait to return for the stimulation and to reconnect with their friends. Parents too are counting down the days for a return to routine...
Others are starting to feel the bite of worry. Thoughts of: “who will my teacher be?”, “will I have any friends?”, “what if it’s too hard?”, “will I fit in?”, “what if my clothes/bag/shoes aren’t right?” - are starting to gnaw. The back to school wobblies are very real for many children, and can result in noticeable mood changes, tearfulness, irritability, sleep problems, and somatic symptoms such as stomach pains or headaches.
With our grown-up knowledge and experience, it can be tempting to dismiss their worries and give superficial reassurance that “it’ll be alright!”. This is especially true when we are caught up in the busyness associated with back to school: organising new shoes, uniforms, books, stationery and trying to get a school friendly sleep routine re-established.
It’s important to remember that change can give us all the wobblies, especially when we feel we don’t have much control over it - which is very much the case for children and young people going to school. So how can we genuinely reduce our children’s back to school wobblies in a way that builds their resilience? These 7 tips can help you tackle your child’s worries, when they can appear too big for them to tackle by themselves:
The back to school wobblies are a common experience for children of all ages, including young people going to high school. With parental and school support, the majority of children will learn to cope with their fears, settle back into the routine of the school year and learn to manage the ups and downs that come with it.
Some children, however, may need extra support if the back to school wobblies are more persistent and pervasive. Their fears and worries can transition to anxiety, which may stop them engaging with friends, participating in activities, and make it difficult for them to do things that others their age do. Big emotions such as anxiety are difficult for children to speak about, so will often be expressed through behaviour or through somatic symptoms. You may notice significant and sustained changes in your child’s behaviour, such as being withdrawn if they were outgoing, or defiant if they were cooperative. They may develop repeated and unexplained physical symptoms such as tummy aches, headaches or stress related skin conditions. Anxiety in children rarely just gets better on its own, and seeking support early is the most helpful thing you can do for your child.