Back to school blues

Quick idea here. For some in Scotland back to school is looming. For some kids this can be anxiety-provoking – even when they have been at the same school for years. Schools often take the peace and quiet of the holidays to make any adjustments needed, reorganise and redecorate. Positive and necessary changes but anxiety-provoking nonetheless.

I don’t like it when I go back to school and things have changed – it makes me feel worried. I notice lots of little things and it takes me a long time to get used to them, some of the changes don’t make sense” 11 year old.

Although schools may let pupils know about big structural changes it can be the smaller or more subtle details that catch kids’ attention and cause worry.

One 7 year old child came home upset saying:

“There used to be a laminated sign on the library door but it’s gone and I’m worried because I don’t know if it is still the library and I don’t know where to take my book back to and I might get in trouble”

It may seem a simple thing to say “just ask your teacher” but for some kids the thought of having to ask a question feels terrifying and they worry they will get told off/ someone will laugh/ their teacher will think they are silly for asking about something like a sign.

Because of this I came up with the idea of a “back to school spot the differences hunt”. The idea is simple. Give your pupils who worry, or who are autistic and find changes tricky, a mission to go round the school and spot what has changed. Then come back to an adult who they can talk about the changes with including any questions (such as “is that still the library?” Or “where did that wobbly chair I liked go?”. What is that smell in the gym hall (new varnish) and I am worried that it will be poisonous.

Being given permission to express what is worrying is and have those feelings validated, and support offered is hugely helpful.

Change is inevitable and we want to empower our kids to be able to take changes in their stride feeling empowered and supported. The “back to school spot the difference” encourages kids to take a proactive approach to something that can cause a lot of anxiety.

  • Identify what has changed (and likely to cause anxiety),
  • Value those skills in identifying details and noticing changes,
  • Give permission to express worried feelings and ask questions,
  • Build skills in recognising that changes can make us anxious,
  • Build relationships with adults and trust that they will be understood and supported.