Welcome back to Dancing Wombat dear reader! I’m looking forward to sharing 2017’s tales, trials and triumphs with you.

For now – the Australian summer holidays are almost done. The beginning of Term 1 brings us all back to issues that holidays help us take a break from.

Apart from putting in book lists, I deliberately try to avoid thinking about preparations for the next school year until the last couple of weeks of January. Otherwise, it feels like I never really have a break, for myself and my family. But then, inevitably, inexorably, the week that culminates in Australia Day on 26 January rolls around. It’s time to focus on haircuts, uniforms, stationery and starting dates as the circus gears up again.

Anxiety – all ready to start a new school year

Some of our children can’t wait to get back to school to see their friends. For others, though, the beginning of the new school year can be a time of high anxiety.

It’s the “new” bit which often causes the problem. New classes, new teachers, new students, new classrooms, new routines, new clothes and – heaven help us – new shoes! We try to ease the burden of anxiety for our kids by preparing as much as we can before the end of the old school year, with visits to the new areas, perhaps meeting new teachers and students, talking about the changes that will take place.

But this isn’t always enough. Anxiety still lurks, unseen, ready to rear its ugly head – often in the worst ways and at the worst times. When we don’t recognise it or if we don’t always deal with it constructively, anxiety can be crippling. Anxiety’s side effects include stomach aches or headaches. Anxiety can also manifest itself in general touchiness and poor behaviour. Extreme anxiety can even bring kids to avoid school when they feel they can’t face its challenges.

I’m not particularly looking forward to the next week. School is still a vexing issue for my Littlest Wombat (not so little now, at nearly ten and a half). He gave us lots of grief over the holidays every time there was the merest mention of something school-related. I booked his starting-back hair cut in early December, so that he knew it was happening and it wasn’t a surprise when it finally came around. But getting his hair cut gives him another chance to remind us of how at his old school, this wasn’t necessary. Oh – and he could wear sneakers to school. And could sleep in longer. And…

Luckily, at the shoe shop this week, aside from complaining to the assistant about how unnecessary school was and how he didn’t learn anything, he didn’t make more than a half-hearted attempt to run out the door. Let’s see how the haircut goes…

Dealing with his constant negativity about school exhausts me emotionally and physically. It’s confusing when all reports from school are that he seems happy and well engaged both within and without the classroom. It’s tiring when he makes mountains from what seem to be tiny molehills. And what we deal with is just a fraction of what some others go through with their children.

So, what’s the take-out from all this? In situations where we sometimes feel like we have no control – because that’s probably how our anxious kids feel – what do we do?

These are some of the things that I try – with varying degrees of success! Of course, it all depends on the child involved and the context.

  • Try not to over prepare. Balance preparing for the “new” with letting your kids have their “de-stress” time. I value my time not thinking about the year ahead – they might, too.
  • Be proactive with incentives for things they find hard. For example, “Where would you like to have a drink, after you get your hair cut?”
  • Do difficult things in the morning. In the afternoon, everyone is tireder, queues are longer, and anxiety levels are often higher as your child has had more time to dwell on what lies ahead.
  • Pick your battles. What really has to be done, and where can you compromise? If your kids can feel that they’ve done something successfully, this will help build their confidence and self-esteem and might help when approaching the next difficult issue.
  • Look after yourself. Dealing with anxiety wears down everyone concerned. If we parents and caregivers are able to look after ourselves a little better, we will be in a better position to help our children. I know – easier said than done – but even five or ten minutes completely to yourself makes a difference.

Good luck. May your back-to-school preparations go as well as you could wish. May anxiety fall and happy anticipation rise. And may all your uniform, book and stationery labelling be finished before midnight the day before school starts!

Until next time, Happy Wombatting!