Back to school anxiety? Play Ideas & Tips to help your child transition.
Is my child ready to be around lots of people? Will they feel overwhelmed, scared, or anxious? Do they have all the social skills required to fit into their school? — if you are asking these questions right now, you are not alone.
Joining school for the first time, or returning after a summer break, has always been stressful for kids. It's completely understandable that the past two years of social isolation could heighten those feelings for a little one.
Developing emotional awareness and social skills could go a long way in combating these feelings. And child psychologists say that even out of school, these skills can be honed just as well with parents, grandparents, siblings, and pets!
So let's look at some ways that you can help your child understand their emotions, empathize with others, deal with challenges, and build relationships. Read on to find out how play can build these skills and to learn simple techniques that can ease your child's stress around school.
Play ideas to build social and emotional skills
Children often get stressed when they don’t know what to expect, what they are feeling, or how to act in new situations. Which is why building good emotional and social skills can play a big part in combating their stress and anxiety.
Through pretend play, your child can develop emotional awareness, self-regulation, and a sense of identity. The right games could also help them build social skills such as listening, effectively communicating, collaborating, sharing, politely refusing, taking turns, and using appropriate manners. Some games to help your child express themselves and sharpen their interactive skills are:
1. Act out a day at school
Keep it similar to what they can expect in a real preschool or school. Have classes, a few games, and lunch hour. If possible, include siblings or other family members to play classmates and teachers. You can introduce some problems they may face, such as if a classmate does not let them pay attention, and allow them to practice what they could do.
2. Throw a pretend party at home
This could be with a friend, siblings, dolls or teddy bears! Act out scenarios where they have to share and take turns. Have a character in the game refuse to give them a piece of cake or unfairly blame them for creating a mess. Guide your child through how they can handle such situations.
3. Play guess the emotion
Guess the emotion or emotions charades is a fun game you can play to familiarise your little one with reading non-verbal expressions. Act out an emotion and let your child guess what you are feeling!
Teach big emotions through this little activity – make easy DIY paper puppets!
4. Set up a virtual playdate
If your child is particularly anxious about being around other children, you could start by hosting a virtual playdate with a little one their age. This may not include much collaborative play, but it will give them a chance to parallel play, talk occasionally, and get comfortable interacting with others.
5. Play board games
Board games are a great way to help your child build their social skills. Paying attention to the rules, patiently awaiting their turn, and winning or losing gracefully will all be useful for interacting with their peers!
6. Use DIY toys
Toys that have to be built require teamwork, cooperation, and good communication. Be it simple at-home DIY activities or DIY sets, your child will learn some valuable skills while building with a friend or sibling.
7. What’s their perspective?
Have your child guess someone else’s perspective! Pause a show, a pretend game, or even an actual conversation and ask them if they can guess what the other person is thinking or feeling. If they get it wrong, ask questions like “Is that how you feel when this happens to you?” to lead them towards the right answer.
Simple ways to ease a child's transition from home to school
1. Acknowledge how your child feels - Help them name their emotions and accept what they share. Avoid saying blanket statements such as “Nothing bad will happen if you go to school” as they may have some negative experiences which they need to be able to face. Instead, remind them of times when they successfully dealt with challenges in the past. This can be a huge confidence boost!
2. Let them know it’s ‘normal’ to be anxious - The overwhelming feeling of anxiety can make children feel scared and alone. Talk to them about this particular emotion. Let them know that it’s normal and that there are times you feel it too! Knowing that you truly understand could create a safe space for them to open up and take in your suggestions.
Can you tell if your child is anxious? How can you help? Read this blog to understand more about anxiety in children.
3. Introduce simple new activities - You don’t have to take your child to crowded playgrounds or even send them on playdates if they aren’t ready. You can start small by asking them to smile and wave at folks they meet. They could answer the door or you could even send them to get something from the neighbours.
4. Note their progress and praise them - Like most of us, children respond remarkably well to feeling seen and appreciated. Let them know when you see they’ve conquered a challenge like speaking to someone new or making a friend on the playground. A quick, “Good job!” or “You did that so well!” could mean a lot to your little one.
5. Everyday activities to reduce stress - Exercise is a great way to reduce stress that’s building up in the body. Some simple stretches or kids’ yoga could be a good daily practice to hone your child’s awareness of different internal sensations. Making art or spending some time with sensory play could also help them feel calm and relaxed.
Looking for sensory activities? These activities need minimal preparation and can be done with materials you have at home!
Building social and emotional skills takes time!
Getting used to social interactions may take a while for some children, and that’s totally alright. Remember that they key is to give them opportunities to keep practicing. If they stumble, don’t immediately rush in to save them – let them find their own solutions.
Finally, don’t forget that alone time is just as important as socializing! Allow your child time to unwind with a creative hobby, a book, or solo play. Trust that in time, they will feel recharged and ready to go out into the world again!