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Back to school anxiety? Top child psychologist shares expert advice – for both kids and parents

Children and parents will experience a mix of emotions returning to school

Sophie Hamilton

It's been nearly six months since the coronavirus lockdown began in the UK, shutting schools and keeping our children home. Understandably, both children and parents are likely to feel apprehensive about the return to school in September after so long off home-schooling in such worrying times.

There will be a whole mixture of feeling: joy at seeing friends and teachers again, nerves over going up a year and the new school set up - and for parents, a mixture of relief and fears over the virus.

We spoke to child psychologist, Dr Sam Wass from TV series The Secret Life of 4 and 5 Year Olds about these issues. Read his advice below…

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Many children may be nervous about returning to school. What is your advice on calming their worries?

Dr Sam says: "Most children will experience a whole range of different emotions when they think about going back to school after such a long period off - excitement about seeing friends, nervousness at leaving the family, worry about how school is going to be different now, and so on. It’s very natural to feel a mixture of emotions - and everybody else will be feeling it, too.

"As parents, we often want to ‘solve’ a child’s problems, and to try to make negative emotions like nerves disappear - but this can often be counterproductive."

"It can be hard, but it’s often more helpful just to talk to your child about how this is an exciting, and a little scary, time for everybody - children, parents and teachers too."

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The return to school will be a big day for parents and children alike

What worries are children likely to have?

"Teachers are prepared to cope that there will be differences in how much children they have done during the time off - so it’s worth making sure that this isn’t something that your child worries about.

"Another worry is how things may be different - and, depending on the school, there certainly will have been changes made.

"Most schools have been communicating with parents about this - but it’s worth making sure that your child is aware of these changes too. The more time you can spend familiarising them with things - going on the school website to look at photos, remember the teachers’ names, and so on, the better."

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How can parents help anxious children on the night before the return to school?

"One thing that can be helpful if you have a child who is worried is to talk the ‘big day’ through in advance."

"When you’re together, the night before - cooking, or over dinner - it can be helpful to visualise exactly what’s going to be happening the next morning when they’re walking into school. Talking about how everybody will be excited and nervous, and what nerves feel like in your body (a faster heartbeat, sweaty palms, shallow breathing, and so on).

"One of the basic techniques of mindfulness is just about recognising emotions in ourselves, and describing them to others, and recognising that other people will be feeling the same emotions, too - and that is definitely a helpful thing for children, too."

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sam-wass

TV's Dr Sam Wass

What if a child is too worried to go back to school - what should a parent do?

"Don’t panic! This type of thing is very normal and almost every child has a time at some point in their life when they announce that they don’t want to go back to school - which will be much more common now, after such a long period off. Schools are well used to coping with this, so it’s definitely worth letting the teacher now how the child is feeling.

"One good thing is that many other people will be in the same boat. Children can often be much better at coaching each other to come back to school than parents, as they’re the best at understanding what it feels like."

Parents may be anxious too. What are your tips for helping them stay calm?

"Yes - this is definitely a stressful time for parents too - as it’s a big change to everybody’s routines. It’s definitely worth making sure that you understand how you’re feeling in yourself - that you accept that it’s normal to feel anxious.

"After dropping them off to school for the first time it's a great time to give yourself a treat for all of the hard work you’ve been doing!"

Dr Sam Wass is working with, MumsNet accredited, Tilda Kids Rice as part of a campaign to provide helpful tips and advice on introducing new flavours and textures into children’s diets.

Tilda Kids is perfect for children who are weaned and happily eating solid food and helps to make mealtimes guilt-free, quick and easy. For more information and recipe inspiration visit tilda.com

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