School should be the best years of children’s lives – but, as the new term approaches, evidence suggests it’s actually the most worrying time for many kids.
The children’s helpline Childline delivered 7,772 counselling sessions about school/education worries last year, with a big increase in calls in the run-up to the start of the new school year.
“School is a huge part of a child’s life, so it’s important they feel happy and secure there,” says Childline director Shaun Friel. “We know some children can feel anxious and apprehensive about going back to school, particularly after spending a lot of time away from the classroom due to the summer break.
“In fact, our Childline counsellors see a spike in the number of counselling sessions they deliver to children about school worries following the summer holiday season.”
Friel says some children feel worried about making friends, getting lost, or the workload at a new school, while others may have concerns about returning to their current school due to friendship issues, fears about upcoming exams, or the recurrence of bullying.
“However a child feels about returning to school, we want to remind them that these worries are normal and they aren’t alone,” he stresses. “If any child is feeling apprehensive about going back to school, our trained counsellors are here 24/7 over the phone and online.”
As well as counselling, Friel says there are many things both parents and children can do to ease back-to-school anxieties. They include…
1. Writing feelings down
Parents can get their child to write down everything they’re looking forward to at school, and everything they’re worried about. “Encourage them to show you the list so you can chat through their concerns, help them cope with their worries and also look at the positives,” suggests Friel.
2. Listening to their concerns
If your child has concerns about going back to school, take time to listen to what they’re saying before you jump in to give advice or your opinion, Friel advises: “You could try repeating back what they’ve shared to check you’ve understood their feelings correctly – this will help them to feel really heard.”
3. Discussing practical solutions
Once your child has shared any concerns or anxieties about going back to school, you could try talking through some practical solutions, suggest Friel. So, for example, if they’re worried about the amount of homework they’ll have, you could discuss how to break this down each evening and what they could do if they start to feel overwhelmed, like talking to their teacher or you. “You could start by asking them what they think might help them feel better about the situations that worry them,” says Friel. “This can encourage them to learn to think for themselves and feel in more control of the situation.”
4. Reminding them to take their time
Remind your child it can take time to adjust to being back at school, and it’s okay if it doesn’t feel comfortable at first, says Friel. “Being back at school will mean a totally different routine, and it’s important to remember that this can take some getting used to,” he stresses.
5. Doing things they enjoy
When kids are back at school, making time every day to do something they enjoy can really help to ease anxiety, says Friel. “Whether it’s time in their evening with friends, reading a book or hanging out with their siblings, it’s important to take time out,” he advises.
6. Talking to a trusted adult
It’s important children are aware they can and should talk to a safe adult – perhaps a parent, carer, teacher, sibling over the age of 18 or a Childline counsellor – about anything. “No matter what the reason, if a young person is struggling ahead of going back to school, it’s vital they’re encouraged to talk to a safe adult about it,” stresses Friel. “Sharing their feelings with someone they trust will help them feel less alone with their worries, and that adult will be able to support them with this moving forward.”
7. Distracting themselves
If children or young people make an effort to keep busy doing something they enjoy, such as playing football or listening to music, this could distract them from their worries, at least for a little while, says Friel. Staying connected with friends and family, whether that be online or in person, or doing some physical activity like going for a walk or taking part in a sport, can also be a good distraction technique.
Young people can contact Childline, which is run by the NSPCC and supported by the People’s Postcode Lottery, on 0800 1111 or via 1-2-1 chat on Childline.org.uk