A kiss goodbye: How to ease back-to-school separation anxiety

·6 min read
(SWNS)
A mum has revealed the sweet way she helped eased her son's back to school anxiety by sewing 'kisses' into his jumper. (SWNS)

A mum has sewn 'kisses' into her son's jumper to help him overcome his back to school anxiety. 

Five-year-old Davey Gurnett, from Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, returned to primary school with two navy crosses on the sleeve of his red school jumper as he began his first week in Year 1.

Mum Kat Gurnett, 35, told her son that if he started to miss his family he could kiss or rub the sewn on kisses and it would "send a little kiss back home".

The mum-of-two has since shared her thoughtful idea with other parents on social media to help out other children who are returning to school after the summer holidays. 

"It’s a very emotional time," Gurnett explains. "Some kids find it easy, walk in and don’t look back, but some find it a bit more difficult which is heartbreaking for the parent."

Having spotted some suggestions online about how other parents were easing their child's anxiety, Gurnett hit upon her sewn 'kisses' idea. 

"Some were giving their kids bracelets but I didn't want to give Davey anything he could lose because he could then spend the day even more upset," she explained. 

"I explained to him that if he missed us at all he could kiss, rub or hug the kisses and it would send a little kiss to us.

"When I picked him up from school he said 'Did you feel my kisses Mummy?' so it has worked wonders."

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As well as helping ease her son's anxiety, Gurnett says the 'kisses' gave her peace of mind too. 

"It was as much for me as it was for him," she explains. 

"I felt better knowing he had that to comfort him.

"Davey has had some health issues so going back to school was a big deal for us both."

There are ways to help ease any anxiety your child is feeling about gonig back to school. (Getty Images)
There are ways to help ease any anxiety your child is feeling about gonig back to school. (Getty Images)

How to ease back to school anxiety

While both parents and children will typically be feeling a little apprehensive around this time of year Dr Amanda Gummer, child research psychologist and founder of the Good Play Guide. www.goodplayguide.com says this might be exasperated this year thanks to the disruption caused by the pandemic. 

"It’s common to experience back to school anxiety after a long break, however the last year in and out of lockdown has meant that children’s routines have been more disrupted than ever before," she explains. 

While your child might not necessarily understand that they are feeling anxious, Dr Gummer says there are a few signs you can look out for including them finding it hard to concentrate, waking in the night, crying or being more clingy than usual, feeling tense or complaining of being unwell.   

"Of course, if symptoms don’t go away you may want to speak to your GP but there are some tips you can try, to help ease their anxiety during these trying times." 

Read more: How coronavirus measures may be affecting children's mental health

Talk to your child about their anxieties about going back to school

Allow plenty of time and opportunities for your child to talk about his or her concerns and ask questions. 

"Actively listen to fears or worries and acknowledge them, so your child knows that their feelings matter and you are always there to lend an ear," Dr Gummer suggests. 

Try to stay positive and calm when discussing your child’s return to school and try to avoid sharing your own anxieties with them. "Your child will pick up on your emotions and this may affect how they feel themselves, so seeing you being confident and calm can help them to feel more confident themselves," she adds. 

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Help familiarise your child with their new routine

Many of us have got out of regular routines, perhaps with later bedtimes and mealtimes (and lots of snacks in between). 

"If possible, start to readjust your day back to the ‘school time’ routine at least a week before, moving everything by a few minutes or so each day so the new routine isn’t such a drastic change," she suggests.  

If your child has already returned, parenting expert Leon Hady founder of www.guideeducation.co.uk suggests reading through the information sent by the school together within the first couple of days back. 

"This can help mentally prepare your child to understand the expectations for the new school year," he explains. 

"Engaging in conversation about the first couple of days back will give them the opportunity to share their feelings and importantly, it will allow you to help your child realise that these feelings are completely normal.” 

Give your child tools to handle back to school anxiety

Mindfulness techniques can be very useful for managing anxious thoughts and feelings. "For example, you could teach your child Square Breathing: breathe in for a count of four seconds, hold for four, breathe out for four, hold for four – as long as needed to calm down," Dr Gummer suggests.  

"Learning methods like this means your child can cope with their emotions even when they are alone."

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Many children are feeling back-to-school anxiety. (Getty Images)
Many children are feeling back to school anxiety. (Getty Images)

Reframe their worries

According to Hady, asking questions surrounding what your child is most looking forward to, which friends they want to get in touch with before the first day back, and what their concerns might be about returning are key in helping to understand how you may be able to lend support. 

"Writing or listing all of the positives is a great way to remind children of the many things they may enjoy about school," he adds. 

"Additionally, writing down any concerns and finding solutions to them together or ways to reframe these negative thoughts can give real reassurance to your child and a real insight to you into their thoughts and feelings."

Accept that some anxiety is to be expected

It is an unusual time and some anxiety is to be expected when changing the routine after a year in and out of lockdown.

"While it may take some time for them to adjust, with your support, they will be able handle any anxieties they may have," Dr Gummer says. 

"Talking to your child about their worries and what they can expect on their return to school, rehearsing the routine and giving them some strategies to process and communicate their emotions are all ways that you can turn this experience into a learning opportunity – and this will build their resilience for the future too."

Additional reporting SWNS.

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