Summer fun is coming to an end. Everyone is shopping for new clothes, backpacks, and school supplies. Preparing for the upcoming school year.
For many kids, this is an exciting time. Time to get back to their friends. Time to find out if they got the teacher they were hoping for. Time to make new friends and try some new things.
And, secretly, wanting to show off their new kicks.
But for many students, back to school is also a very scary time. Instead of being excited, they are filled with anxiety. Uncertainty. Constant worry.
What will the year hold? What if I don’t know anybody? Who will I sit with at lunch? What if none of my friends are in my class?
Last school year, my first grade middle daughter started complaining of severe stomach pain, usually in the mornings. It literally came from nowhere.
Since this wasn’t the first day of school, but a few weeks into the year, it didn’t dawn on my that this may be a bad case of nerves.
I mean, we had already gotten settled in the classroom, met some new friends, and developed a new routine.
So, being a concerned mom, I took her to the doc who did an Xray and diagnosed her with constipation.
So we did all the clean-out that one can possibly do, and back to school we went.
But the anxiety continued. She was screaming at the top of her lungs and crying hysterically when I tried taking her in. I had never seen anything like it. It was totally out of character for her.
It was not constipation that was bothering her. It was fear of being at school. Fear that something was going to happen to her while she was there, or that something was going to happen to me while we were apart.
When something like this happens with your child, you feel helpless. Like you just don’t know what to do or where to go. Of course, you want to just take them home and love on them. Make them see that all is ok (and I did for a couple of days).
But sooner than later, they have to face their fears and insecurities and so do you.
Some things we did to help
1. Get the school on your side
Most school staff really are looking out for the best interest of your child. And they see this type of thing way more than we do, and they usually know how to handle it.
My husband actually met with the principal, the guidance counselor, and the school nurse one morning at drop-off. They came up with a plan for a familiar face to meet her in the morning once she walked in with her siblings.
If she had a super anxious moment, the school nurse would pull her into her office and allow her to call me, but just for a few minutes. She only did this for a couple of days.
Also, developing a relationship with the child’s teacher can go a long way. Just letting your child know that you are checking on them throughout the day can ease some worry. Just don’t worry your teacher to death. Check in as needed, but trust that they will reach out.
2. Let them talk it out
You may not understand what’s going on in their little minds, but let them be free to express it to you without ridicule. Validate their feelings instead of making them feel bad for having them. They are entitled to feel however they feel.
A little reassurance can go a long way. Make sure they know that you will be back (or whatever the after-school plan is).
You also need to make sure that there isn’t a legit reason why they don’t want to go to school such as bullying.
Prayer with my daughter made her feel stronger and not so alone. It was also something that I could do, an actionable step, in a time where I felt so hopeless.
The Bible teaches us that we are not alone and that He will provide if we ask Him to.
4. Create something special just for the two of you
Out of pure desperation and a lack of ideas, I came up with a “tool” to help when we had an overwhelming moment.
Out of construction paper, I traced and cut out her handprint and mine.
I wrote a note on the back of my handprint that said something like “when you feel afraid, just hold my hand and know that I am always near. I love you more than anything in the world and I will see you at home”.
She also wrote on the back of mine and we agreed to “hold hands” when we missed each other.
At the end of the day, we would talk about how many times we held each other’s hands throughout the day.
It was something special just between us.
This too shall pass.
It’s a difficult thing to leave your child when in your heart you know that they just want/need you, and that you can make it all go away.
But sometimes life gives us difficult things and we have to learn to overcome them.
Teaching your child that they are strong and they can do hard things will ultimately build confidence and courage if handled the right way.
With support and patience, your child will adjust. Probably quicker than you will.