School, as exciting as it can be, can also cause anxiety in your little one. Here are some common fears kids experience when the new school day approaches and how to overcome them.
WORDS ANGEL DREWGUS
As children move past babyhood, their world expands. They find themselves in situations that take them further away from the familiarity of home and parents. And with that often comes a feeling of fear. As children cannot express such a complex feeling very well, it’s important to know the signs and that these will depend on the age and sex of the child and so will vary as the child matures.
A major transition in the life of every child is when they progress to school. What we want is for our child to settle into school as easily as they can, to make friends and begin to enjoy the experience. It is only when they feel less anxious and more settled that they will begin to learn. Too often we focus on ensuring our children are prepared academically but neglect the social skills they will need, explains Fiona Walker, chief executive officer and principal of schools, Julia Gabriel Education Pte Ltd.
Every child is unique and as such will approach certain situations and experiences differently. And though many children may have similar worries, their level of concern and how long it takes them to overcome a fear may differ. As you know your child best, you will know what is likely to be the bigger challenge for her.
Here are some of the most common fears children experience, along with tips for overcoming them.
Will I Make New Friends?
One of the biggest concerns that children have is about making new friends, explains Walker. Talk to your child honestly about how you felt when you started school, or a new job, and how you made new friends. Maybe you met your best friend who is still your friend today at school! Your enthusiasm can help your child to feel excited about the prospect of new friendships.
Explain to your child that every other child in class is probably feeling the same. The fact is, most children instinctively know what to say to each other and will work out these situations by themselves.
If you know of other children in your neighbourhood or condo who will be attending the same school you could arrange a playdate beforehand, so they could have at least one familiar face when they go to school.
Who is My Teacher?
Wondering about the new teacher is a common fear for many children, says Walker. Will he or she be stern? Will he or she get cross with me if I forget something? Will I like my teacher?
Reassure your child that their teacher understands how they are likely to be feeling.
Arrange a visit to the school so that your child can meet their prospective teacher. That might help her feel less intimidated.
I’m Afraid of Failing
Notice how some children will try to come up with different reasons to avoid school or class on that particular day of the week? Most likely it could be a spelling day, test day or show-and-tell day. This is what we call ‘task-avoidance’, explains Areena Loo, founder of Bridge Learning. Don’t let them quit easily just because they cry or throw tantrums. Tell them it’s alright to fail or make mistakes. The most important thing is to do their best.
Advise your child that no one is good in everything and everyone makes mistakes. Building resilience is from young and through the little things, emphasises Loo. When they can overcome the small challenges, they will be more ready for the bigger things in life.
Will I get Bullied?
Bullying is a huge understated fear that affects lots of kids, explains Loo. The stress of dealing with bullying can affect concentration, studies and emotional well-being. And it can be difficult to express it out well especially amongst young children.
The top types of bullying most frequently experienced are, “name calling”, “laughed at”, “being teased”, “being pushed”, “being hit” and “kicked at”.
As parents, we should teach children on how to stop being a bully victim. And it is also equally important to teach our children not to be a bully themselves and to help a friend who is being bullied, advises Loo. Most importantly, teach resilience from young by not intervening in every situation your child gets into.
I Don’t Want to Leave Your Side
Having spent much of their early life developing attachment to caregivers, it can be incredibly anxiety-provoking for a child to leave their caregivers’ side and spend hours away. This is known as “separation anxiety”, explains Elaine Yeo, a psychologist from Centre for Effective Living. In order to reduce separation anxiety at the school age, it is helpful to encourage toddlers to leave their caregivers’ side and explore their surroundings. Caregivers must also be present to observe and assure the toddler when necessary.
Will Something Happen at Home while I’m in School?
Children who are going through major stressors or transitions in their life (e.g., divorce, relocation, loss of a family member) might worry that something may happen to their caregivers while they are away. They then view school as the entity that is taking them away from their caregivers whom they feel the need to protect, explains Yeo. In this instance, it is important for caregivers to model confidence and composure.
Children take cues from their caregivers; when a caregiver looks worried, they will perceive that something is wrong and thus worry.
Caregivers should encourage the child to share their fears and worries. It is also important to tell the child that it is normal to have concerns. Most importantly, reward the child with praise when they bravely make the choice to go to school.
What if I can’t Cope?
It is best to bring your child to view the school. This will help your child be less anxious hence she will be able to concentrate on other tasks advises Daniel Koh, psychologist, Insights Mind Centre. Parents should start to follow the routine at home a few weeks before school, like waking up early and doing some school related things like writing and colouring.
How will I Go to School?
Inform your child how she is going to school and back. Will she be hopping on the school bus or will someone be fetching her? Constant reassurance is important. Explain to your child how much fun she will have in the school bus with her friends. Usually, the first few days will be difficult, so be prepared.
What if I need Help with Something?
It is common for a child not to ask to go to the toilet, explains Koh, or even for something like to drink water and this could either be due to fear or not knowing how to ask. Therefore, at home, teach your child how to ask and not be afraid. Practice and model for your child to see how it is done.
Remember, anxiety or fear in kids can sometimes look like defiance, rebellion, anger, or stubbornness, when it’s really kids panicking because they are so afraid. Don’t force your child to go beyond her comfort zone. Instead, permit her to observe from the sidelines and watch for as long as she wants. Many children relax when they know they have permission to take their time. Once relaxed, she’ll be more willing to participate and get involved.