Coping with back-to-school anxiety

With the school summer holidays now finally here, children across the UK are excitedly awaiting six weeks of freedom for the long summer break. It may seem premature to talk about back-to-school anxiety now with holidays abroad, play dates with friends, day trips and visiting family all back on the agenda as we settle back into what seems like ‘normal’ life again following the restrictions that have dominated the last couple of years due to the pandemic.

However, while six weeks seems like forever when you’re a child, many kids (and parents!) can start to feel antsy about the return to school after such a long break. Back-to-school anxiety can be particularly felt if they are changing classes or moving school.

After launching a successful, free five-day wellbeing challenge for primary schools last year, focused on reducing anxiety, building resilience and teaching children that they are in charge of their own thoughts, world-renowned therapist and best-selling author Marisa Peer shares her top tips on how to make the transition back to school a smooth one and cope with any back-to-school anxiety they may be experiencing.

Meet the teacher

The fear of the unknown is one of the main causes of anxiety in children and adults, so if your child hasn’t been introduced to their new teacher or visited their new school before the holiday period, ask whether this is possible. This gives them the chance to meet the teacher, look around their new class and become familiar with the new environment so it doesn’t seem totally unknown when they return to school after such a long break.

Arrange playdates

If your child is moving to a new class or school and is anxious that they don’t know anyone, ask the school whether it’s possible to start a whatsapp group with other parents in the same boat, or as most schools now have a social media presence post in there and arrange playdate for the kids to get to know each other. 

Keep to a routine

While the regular school routine tends to go out of the window in the holidays, try to establish some sort of consistency with things like bedtimes, meal times, daily play and outdoor activities. Then when it comes to getting back into the school routine again, the transition won’t feel as difficult.

Make learning fun

Often one of the biggest fears that kids have about going back to school is whether they will be able to keep up with the work they are set and this can often lead to back-to-school anxiety. If your child has been struggling with a particular subject at school, find some fun activities that you can do together in the holidays. It doesn’t have to feel like ‘work’ – make it fun! 

For example, to practice handwriting or spelling, why not create a comic book together – work out the storyboard and get your child to write and draw out their ideas. There are so many fun apps too that you can download to engage kids to learn without realising they are – but be careful not to encourage too much screen time.

Tackling the terrors – building confidence 

Back-to-school anxiety, worries about keeping up and performing academically are often not about ability at all, but confidence – so spend some time in the holidays praising, practising and building it up!

Last year we launched an initiative in primary schools specifically around this, which you can recreate at home with the following activities:

Step 1 – Create an Inner Cheerleader

Grab a piece of paper and some colouring pens and ask your child to use their imagination to create their own cheerleader – a character who cheers them on and challenges their inner critic – the little voice in their head that says they can’t do things and makes them feel anxious.

It could be a person, character or avatar who encourages them through positive self-talk – it doesn’t matter as long as they love it and feel comfortable with it. The inner cheerleader can be anything they want – from a family member they admire, to a Marvel hero, or even a pom pom-waving robot – as long as they make it their own.

Stick the picture somewhere they will see it everyday and if they ever feel a negative thought coming on or start to worry, tell them to picture the Inner Cheerleader in their head or look at their artwork and imagine them swooping in to save them with encouraging words.



Step 2 – Cheerleader Chants

Come up with some key phrases or affirmations that your child would like the cheerleader to say to help them feel happy and confident each day. Get them to write down a few sentences. For example, you might like to hear ‘I am kind, I am amazing, I am a great friend, I can concentrate’. Cut these out into speech bubbles and display them next to your cheerleader picture.

Step 3 – The Power of Word

Today help your child look at how the words we say to ourselves and the pictures we create in our head can affect our mood and actions. Explain to them that every thought we think creates an emotional response which we call a feeling, and those feelings can create a physical reaction – an action or behaviour.

Practise this by getting them to write down a negative thought they think about themselves, then ask them how it makes them feel, where they feel it in their body and how they behave or act when they feel like that? Now do the same with a positive thought.

Step 4 – The Power of Repetition 

We only get better at something with practice – and it’s the same when it comes to being mindful of your thoughts and creating a more positive way of thinking.

To help kids understand this, get them to write down their first name, using a pen in the hand they don’t normally write with – and do this 15  times. Get them to look at their first attempt and 15th attempt so they can see that it is written more clearly.

Now tell them it’s the same with watching their thoughts and calling on their Inner Cheerleader when they need them!

You can find out more about the 5-Day Challenge and access resources at: https://rtt.com/5-day-challenge

If your child is really struggling with anxiety around school or any other issue, a Rapid Transformational Therapy (RTT) session could help. RTT helps to get to the root cause of anxiety and instill more positive thoughts and actions to help boost your child’s confidence and self-esteem. To find out more visit: RTT.com

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