Start by helping your child express their worries, fears, problems and more in the comfort of their own home. Give them your undivided attention and find a private space away from siblings if needed. Help them find the correct labels for their feelings, ideally in their own words. Many children enjoy using creative methods of expression (e.g. drawing pictures, writing in journals, creating social stories) while some are able to spell it out while relaxing at bath time or bedtime.
Validate & Empathize
Showing your child that you respect, accept and understand their emotions serves as a big boost to their self-confidence! Sometimes this is enough to give your child the relief they are seeking. All feelings should be accepted (but not necessarily all behaviors that are often associated with negative feelings). Rather than reassuring them that you will keep them safe, let them know that yes, these things are scary and you hear their true feelings. Let them feel your belief in them—how proud, positive and excited you are!
Once your child expresses their worry, ask them to tell you or, better yet, show you more. Help your child use play (e.g. dolls, animals, action figures) to act out the scenario or event they fear may occur. You may be surprised at how small or unlikely the fear really is, but remember it is very real to them! Help them practice ways to deal with different anxiety-provoking scenarios. Ask them what kind of help they need and what exactly they would say. Identify a trusted teacher or other school faculty member they can approach if they need it.
Ask your child to use words or pictures to describe the top five things they are most excited about for when they return to school. Many children in elementary or middle school hear rumors, both good and bad, about what the next grade is like. Find out for yourself what will be new and special this year, and let your child’s imagination wander to an exciting place of what it will be like!
Hello & Goodbye
Create fun rituals and routines for you and your child at drop off and pick up. Re-direct their attention to what they are looking forward to, and help keep any worries away!