If like me, you spent the last couple of weeks of the school holidays feeling like a cat on a hot tin roof, trust me, you are not alone. I’ve been working with the UK’s number one nurturing doll brand Baby Annabell to try and reach as many parents of young children as possible to tackle school anxiety and calm nerves. We know that the majority of parents feel a level of stress or anxiety around their child starting or going back to school after the holidays.
Adjusting to the new school term
Not least these recent summer holidays, as the start of the 2021 autumn term marked the beginning of a hopeful return to normal school life, after 18 months of pandemic upheaval. And that is no easy feat for anyone! Both parents and children have been feeling the anticipation. A cocktail of emotions, kids felt anxious about leaving their safe haven of home, of mummy, daddy or their caregiver, of meeting, mixing and making new friends. And parents (like me) spent weeks feeling emotional about their little ones becoming all ‘grown up’ and fending for themselves between 9–3 p.m. every weekday. When we are faced with something new or unfamiliar our fight or flight response kicks in – our built-in panic button. This is basically our own survival strategy and is nature and biology’s way of keeping us protected and prepared for any ‘danger’ ahead.
How can we as parents feel less anxious about the school drop-off?
Now, of course, we know that our precious children will be well taken care of by our excellent teachers and care assistants, but it doesn’t help us parents and caregivers feel less anxious about the school drop-off every day does it? It’s the unknown and lack of control that sparks any fears, even a few weeks into the term.
Lots of parents spent the best part of the summer holidays gearing up for the start of the school term…new uniforms, bags, lunchboxes, and water bottles. All of which were frantically ordered new, then labelled, from the various outlets specifically targeting us stressed and frazzled parents and guardians, all jostling to ensure we’d got everything, not wanting to be the parent that got it wrong.
The WhatsApp groups were pinging off the hook with recommendations from other parents and guardians for this, and suggestions for that, and mixed emotions being shared at the prospect of our ‘babies’ now being in big school.
And now, a few weeks into the new school term, the uniforms aren’t quite box-fresh anymore, those pristine school shoes are boasting a few scuffs, and anxiety might have overtaken excitement. You might be worried that your child can’t remember every rule or routine, or that friendships haven’t come as easily as you hoped.
When worrying can be unhelpful
The thing is, our children almost always cope far better with new situations than we ever give them credit for. It’s usually the frazzled caffeinated parents who feel the angst more, and as I tell a lot of fellow parents, that’s actually a great thing… it shows you care, it shows you are aware, and it shows you’re tuned in to your children. That can only be a lovely thing, right! A parent who feels, is a parent who cares.
But there are times when the worry is unhelpful and can be counterproductive. Kids are very intuitive and pick up on all of your feelings, behaviours, and social cues. It can be really tough to mask how you are really feeling (and in many cases it’s important that we don’t) however when it comes to helping your kids have a smooth transition into school, it’s really important to try and park some of your angst in front of them so they can have as much of a reassured and confident start as possible.
Four ways to tackle school anxiety and help calm nerves
These are my top tips for helping you and your little one cope during these early weeks and months of the new school term, with a little help from Baby Annabell:
It’s perfectly normal and natural to feel apprehensive about something new. Just vocalising and sharing feelings can massively help. Do this in a positive way between you and your child. What are you feeling nervous about? What are you looking forward to?
Try and frame it in as positive a light as you can, focusing on what you are both looking forward to and the exciting parts, rather than anything negative will help keep the general feeling one of anticipation rather than anxiety.
During these first few weeks of the school term, it can help to start the day in a positive way by enjoying a good breakfast together. Make a bit of an event or treat out of it – particularly if there is resistance or anxiety about going into school (maybe making pancakes together). Talk about what they will be doing in the day, share also what you will be doing so they can visualise your whereabouts and feel reassured that you are near, remind them that you will be there to pick them up (or explain who is going to collect them and why) and focus on what you will do together at the end of the day to celebrate. Enjoy a debrief of what you have both been up to and share your three best moments of your day.
Be very mindful of any language or feelings you might consciously or subconsciously be sharing with your child. If you are feeling stressed and anxious, then they will absolutely pick up on it and invariably adopt the same mindset (and worst-case feel like there is something to fear.) Share any worries you may have with another adult, a friend, perhaps your partner or even their teacher, and seek the reassurance you need so you can then pass it on and in turn and reassure your child.
Introduce a Worry Doll
A play idea to help eliminate common anxieties your child might be feeling around nursery or school this autumn is to utilise your Baby Annabell as a ‘worry doll’. A worry doll is a very important member of the family…if your child has any worries, encourage them to tell their worries to their doll. They can say it out loud and then once they have been brave and said anything that is worrying them, give their Baby Annabell doll a massive hug – here’s the best bit, the hug will squeeze the worry away.
School anxiety for both parents and children is really normal, so rest assured that anything you are experiencing comes from a place of love and demonstrates healthy bonds. Take each day as it comes, try not to overthink things and catastrophise what may or may not happen. And be sure to celebrate the small wins as well as the big ones – including a glass of vino just for you when your contented little ones have drifted off into a pleasantly exhausted sleep.
These soft body, realistic dolls help encourage new skills, empathy and imaginative roleplay for children, inspiring nurturing play patterns that’ll keep them busy for hours!
Article by Anna Williamson. Find out more about Baby Annabell’s Ask the Experts campaign here.