How to help your anxious child prepare and transition back to school after the holidays.
Heading back to school after a holiday break can be extremely hard on kids that have anxiety and I personally find that my kids’ behaviour starts to change quite a few days before as the anxiety slowly builds inside them. For many children, especially those who are autistic, school holidays mean a much needed break from the social, physical and mental demands on them that they have to endure throughout the term and the thought of having to go back to that after the feeling of freedom can be super stressful for them. In my house I see short tempers, resistance to do even the simplest tasks and lots of ‘sore tummies’ as their bodies and minds start to process the impending return to school D-Day.
I asked my beautiful online community for their top tips to help their anxious kids prepare and transition back to school after a break and had some wonderful ideas which I hope will be helpful to other families with their children.
“We make sure our son goes to the School Holiday program at the school at least a couple of times over the holidays. This way he still visits the school and playground and maintains that connection. Also going over his school timetable the weekend before they go back helps – so he remembers when he has PE and music etc.”
“I get my son back into his bedtime/ night-time routine. Use a back to school count down and I also drive him to school on the first day back.”
“We have big anxiety a day or so before. And we talk through and visual the first day back. And we make a list of the good things about school routine and scary things and then plan how manage the scary things.”
“Start many days before the end of holidays going to bed, and waking up, at the ‘usual time’. Using a visual schedule to follow the steps pictorially helps to reset, and get back into the humdrum. Kids can also help set out their clothes the night before they are due to return (visual reminder, yes – it’s back to school time!). Kids might also benefit from going ‘school supply’ shopping and purchasing some preferred snacks, etc to make it enjoyable and something to look forward to! My daughter gets a little canteen spending money for the first day back!”
“We have lots of chats and we try to do a few days of school schedules before school goes back…. we get up, get dressed and do some reading or writing (about half hr) to get her back into the swing of things. We spend the rest of the time having fun just a little work to get her used to the effort again.”
“Get back into practice with making lunches (giving them some independence) often it’s the shock of getting back into routine…. I often have our family timetable on our whiteboard so our girls can see what is ahead… even plan some lunch ideas and breakfast to take the stress out the following week…also even some ideas for snacks (it helps me as I then have bought enough things to cover bases). Both are visual, so it’s important to see what else is coming up….”
“The start of a new school year we visit school the week before school starts. My son is in to spy’s. So we look for ‘clues’ of things that are the same and different. We also have morning tea with the new teacher in a calm quiet space, I organise with the teacher for him to have some jobs to do whilst we are there (unwrap books, unpack resources). During term breaks we visit the uniform shop the week before and replace anything that needs replacing (sometimes it’s just more socks for his sister), and again investigate changes to the playground.”
“We use a countdown system it works great in our house. “M###s schools back in four days and so on”…
“Drive by or walk by the school. If they have animals offer to feed the school animals. Make sure you are early on the first day back. Could go in extra early to do some prearranged jobs. Lots of holidays play and catch ups with friends.”
“My son’s non-verbal but he has “tells” that show he’s anxious…for instance he fingers the left collar of his shirt. We keep cut up straws in the front pocket of his backpack to chew on (he loses them all the time). Any new environment we slowly phase him in, start with a little exposure then take him home. Next day increase the time. We keep his favourite books/iPad on hand for the first few weeks to distract him when he gets upset. Previously we’ve been allowed to enter the room before the other kids so that J gets confidence in his environment before adding other kids and noise. Oh and he doesn’t wear pyjamas….after his bath at night, he’s straight into normal (clean) clothes…this might change when he has to start wearing uniforms…it takes the stress out of getting dressed in the morning.”
Thank you so much to all of the wonderful parents and carers who shared their knowledge and ideas to try and help other families have a happy, stress free return to school!
Owner of Sensory Oasis for Kids and busy mum of three amazing Autistic boys
Visual Schedules are a great way for kids to see what is happening that day and what is expected. Magnetic Moves is an Australian owned and operated company that provides beautiful magnetic visuals.
MY BUSY DAY
My Busy Day is a colourful and fun chart designed to help your pre-school age child (3-5 yrs) have input into their day. Children can work with mum and dad to select the tiles which outline the key activities in their day. This way there are no surprises, no false expectations and no disappointments. Your child feels empowered and that their opinion and input is valued.
MY BUSY SCHOOL WEEK
Designed for the school age child to give them a pictorial view of what is happening in their school week from day to day. Events such as music lessons, library day, tuckshop, swimming and others can be noted in the weekly section at the top of the chart. Routines for getting ready for school or getting ready for bed can be checked off at the bottom of the chart. Reward stars offer parents a way to acknowledge achievements and positive behaviour throughout the day or week.
MY WEEKEND PACK
The ‘My Weekend Pack’ compliments the ‘My Busy School Week’ chart by offering 10 magnetic tiles that can be used on weekends such as visit friends, shopping, party and computer time.