As children have made the return to school, we ask,

Is going back to school an anxious time for your child or learners?

For many school age children, returning to school in September can be an exciting time. Some even love it and find being away from school boring or enjoy the routine of school. For others going back to school can be an anxious time.

Friend of CodeBreakers, Wendy Miller Coaching, has written an informative and helpful article about supporting children with anxiety. Following on from my recent article about making mistakes and other Mindful Dyslexia articles, I knew Wendy’s advice would be invaluable. If you are feeling equally as anxious about your child’s return please read on…

Wendy wrote:

Children may find themselves facing various concerns and uncertainties, such as changing classes, new teachers, and even different schools. In this blog post, I will delve into practical strategies that parents can employ to provide steadfast support during this period of change, helping both you and your child feel more at ease as you embark on this new chapter together.

Strategies for Nurturing a Smooth Transition

Embracing ‘What If…?’ Thoughts: Allow your child to express their worries and concerns openly. Address any ‘what if…?’ thoughts by acknowledging that these are natural apprehensions. Help them understand that these thoughts are their brain’s way of trying to protect them, but it’s essential to balance them with positive ‘what if…?’ thoughts. So instead of thinking ‘What if the work is too hard?’ you balance it out with, ‘What if I do really well?’  Or ‘What if I don’t have any friends?’ becomes ‘What if I make lots of new friends?’  Sometimes we can get so caught up in the negative ‘what if…?’ thoughts, that we forget all the wonderful possibilities that lie ahead.  So, support your child to embrace the changes that lie ahead with positivity and excitement.

I’d also add to reflecting on those positive outcomes.  Perhaps talk about the positive skills which your child has developed over the summer. Reflect on how far they had come at the end of the term and how much progress was made from last September. Compare their worries this time last year and are they the same or different? This doesn’t need to be in an academic sense but in the way they have dealt with things at an emotional level. I often see huge amounts of growth have taken place over the summer holidays, many of my students return in September and it’s evident they have made a lot of of emotional development and higher levels of ‘tolerance’  or less anxiety, towards completing some learning tasks. It can be very useful to turn this into something visual. Maybe even mark key points/event that made changes, where you saw changes.  There is no right or wrong to this type of exercise. It might bring about conversations where you reflect together, recall nice memories and positive feelings.

Realistic Evaluation: Engage in discussions about what would happen if their fears materialised. Talk through scenarios from their negative ‘what if…?’ thoughts and how the situation could play out. Highlight the potential learning opportunities and support systems in place, such as speaking with teachers or seeking your guidance. This process can help demystify their worries and empower them to address challenges head-on.

A child I supported was worried about not knowing the rules at his new school and that he could get a detention.  One of his friends ended up getting a detention, who then confided in him that it was actually fun!  Whilst fun detentions would not have been the intention of the school, it helped this child realise that getting a detention was not the end of the world.  We then talked about how if he got into trouble, he would be supported to put things right and he would be able to learn from his mistakes.

I wrote in a previous article about the brain playing out negative videos of anticipated negative thoughts. It is so important that you help a child to press ‘play’ not ‘pause’ and watch the video in their mind to the end, help them create a positive end to that video, not get stuck on ‘pause’ only seeing the negative.

Building Neural Pathways: Explain the concept of neural pathways to your child. Get them to understand that we have wide pathways for things they do routinely and that they are familiar with.  Relate it to their experiences, both familiar and new. So, our children will have a wide pathway for their routines around school last year.  The changes ahead will mean that they now have a narrow pathway.  Encourage your child to think about what will still be familiar to them.  They will not be starting from scratch, so they will already have a pathway and they just need to widen it.  The pathway will become wider, the more they do that thing.  For example, your child might be moving schools, but they already know a lot about being at school, such as routines, the subjects taught, what lessons are like, etc.  They will be used to wearing uniforms, completing work, and having lunch at school.  They will have hopefully visited the school and met some of the teachers.  Yes, there will be lots of things that will be different but think about how they can build on what they already know.  This will help your child to identify their thin neural pathway and allow them to widen it with confidence.

One of my children used to struggle moving classes every year in primary school.  Alongside a longer transition that started in the summer term, I made sure that he maintained friendships over the summer, we kept the conversation about school open throughout the long break and we discussed what he was familiar with and what would be new in September.  All this really helped him and made the transition to his new class easier.

 

Comfort, Stretch, and Panic Zones: Introduce the idea of comfort, stretch, and panic zones to your child. Help them grasp that learning and growth happens in the stretch zone, where they’re challenged but not overwhelmed. By identifying their emotions and associating them with these zones, they can learn to embrace the excitement of learning and personal development, even if it comes with a touch of nervousness.

Whilst it is great to be in our comfort zone, nothing new grows there.  We need to step out of our comfort zones to learn and develop new skills.  So, whilst starting in a new class or school can be a stretch for our children, it can be part of an amazing journey towards reaching their full potential.

Wendy speaks about ‘nervousness’ it can be hard to understand our feelings and sensations and difficult especially for a child to interpret them. Doing or trying something new can create a physical sense in our body, it’s important to explore that and know if it is excitement or worry. Talk about how the physical sensation feels. Where do they feel it? Have they felt something like this before? Was this feeling about something nice or exciting?

Thinking positive and having big dreams: Talk to your child and link the different concepts from this blog together and begin to plan positively for the future.  What are they excited about? What are their goals for the future?  How will this next year help them towards this goal?

As September approaches, remember that your guidance and understanding are instrumental in shaping your child’s attitude toward change and growth. By implementing these strategies, you’re not just supporting them through this transition, but also equipping them with life skills that extend beyond the classroom. The mixture of emotions that this season brings is natural; what matters most is the way you navigate them together. Embrace this opportunity to foster open communication, encourage a positive mindset, and show your child that stepping out of their comfort zone is the key to unlocking their full potential. Together, you can create a foundation of confidence and resilience that will serve them well in every new adventure life presents.

I feel, children like ourselves, need the down time from their daily routines to relax, to enable them to reflect and process their learning, of whatever kind. During term time children are under so much demand on a daily basis there is rarely time for their brain to pause and relax and allow other new thoughts to enter their mind.  It is that process of relaxation which enables our brains to free up space to explore other thoughts, different to our daily routines and expectations. Sometimes it’s this time we can take, to do so over the summer holidays and return feeling renewed for the next challenge.

If you would like to learn more about the work Wendy does and how she can support your family, then get in touch.  She has sessions in North Staffordshire, and 1-1 sessions are available face-to-face or online.

You can find out more at Wendy Miller Coaching

Thanks for reading

Georgina @CodeBreakers

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