Tips to help neurodivergent children deal with school anxiety
Tips to help neurodivergent children deal with school anxiety

Back to School Part 3: Side-stepping anxiety

Investing time in preparing your child for the upcoming school year can make all the difference between school reluctance and a positive educational experience.

Need to know: Neurodivergent children and school anxiety

As the anticipation of a new school year builds, it’s common for both children and parents to feel a twinge of anxiety about what lies ahead. Whether your child is stepping into kindergarten or taking the next grade level, we’ve put together some strategies you can use to ensure a seamless transition. 

Why it’s important

Investing time in preparing your child for the upcoming school year can make all the difference between school reluctance and a positive educational experience. This becomes more important for children who faced challenges in the previous year, fostering their confidence to re-enter the classroom environment.

With a new school year just around the corner, take a moment to observe your child’s growth, strengths, areas for improvement, and triggers over the past few months. This knowledge will not only empower you but also enable you to effectively communicate your child’s needs to their new teacher, ensuring the necessary support is in place.

Tips & strategies

  1. Comfort in familiarity – Particularly for neurodivergent and highly anxious children, introducing them to their new school environment early can address common worries. Consider taking a quiet walk around the school grounds with your child and possibly visiting their new classroom when it’s empty. A gentle introduction can provide a sense of comfort without overwhelming sensory stimuli.
  1. Meet with the teacher in advance – Begin the school year by updating documents detailing your child’s strengths and the accommodations they need to thrive. Download and use our free ‘About Me’ template. Schedule a meeting with their new teacher to discuss your child’s needs and the necessary adjustments. Early communication helps set the stage for a positive teacher-student relationship and ensures that potential issues are addressed promptly.
  1. Foster connections – If possible, arrange playdates or a class meet-and-greet with future classmates. Familiar faces can ease anxiety about the unknown, especially on the first day of school. Similarly, facilitate an opportunity for your child to connect with their new teacher before school starts. An informal introduction can go a long way in building trust and safety.
  1. Routine is key – During school holidays the usual school routines get replaced by a more relaxed approach. Don’t wait until school starts to implement a new routine. Although structured routines can provide a sense of predictability that helps alleviate anxiety, you don’t want to iron out any issues in real-time! Develop morning, afternoon, and evening routines that accommodate school tasks and free time. For visual learners, a visual representation of the routine can be particularly helpful, or you can try a music routine to keep everyone on track.
  1. Gear up with confidence – Give your child a chance to use and understand their new school items – from backpacks to lunch boxes. Trying on uniforms, including shoes, is crucial for those with sensory sensitivities, ensuring they’re comfortable and ready for the big day. Read the “Back to school – Part 2: Testing new things” article for tips.
  1. Sleep Transition – Adjusting to school sleep patterns takes time. Start a week before school begins by gradually shifting bedtime and wake up time. This ensures a smoother transition from holiday to school sleep schedules. Read the “Back to school – Part 1: Sleep” article for tips.
  1. Collect Updated Reports – If your child receives support from professionals like occupational therapists, speech pathologists, or psychologists, gather the most recent reports for your child’s teachers. This information empowers educators with insights to create a learning environment where your child can succeed.
  1. Communication is Key – Find a calm time in your days to start a conversation with your child about their anticipations and apprehensions regarding school. By addressing their concerns, you can collaboratively find solutions and alleviate unnecessary worries.
  1. Carry a Token of Connection –  For children who struggle with separation anxiety, providing them with a special trinket or symbol can offer reassurance and a sense of connection to you. 
  1. Empower with knowledge and strategies – Demystify anxiety by explaining what it is to your child. Understanding how our brains work is empowering! Teach your child breathing techniques and other strategies to help them manage their worries. Download the “Anxiety – tuning your alarm system” pdf to read with your child.
  1. Prioritise Self-Care – Amidst the hustle and bustle of preparations, don’t forget to take care of yourself. You’ve got this!

As the new school year approaches, your role as a parent extends beyond logistics – it’s about ensuring your child’s emotional well-being. By implementing these tested strategies, you’re not only easing your child’s anxiety but also nurturing their confidence and enthusiasm. With thoughtful preparation, open communication, and a dash of self-care, you’re setting the stage for a successful school year.

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