A play Therapists Guide to Helping Your Child Back to School!

An image representing back to school from a play therapist.

Close your eyes for a moment…

Imagine yourself walking through the hallway of a brand-new workplace. You meet all the qualifications for the job. Yet, your stomach feels twisted up and you’re worried if your coworkers will like you if they will sit with you at lunch, or listen to your ideas.

Sound familiar? Now imagine this feeling repeating itself every year when a child starts a new grade and enters a new classroom with new classmates and a new teacher. Sure, it might be the same school, but for a small child, the environment looks and feels completely different.  

Parents experience immense pressure to ensure their children arrive on time and are ready to learn at school every day for almost nine months of the year. In fact, it is their legal responsibility. Therefore, resistance, fear, or even avoidance feels like an additional weight in the heavy load that parents carry. It’s common to respond to this resistance with frustration. 

The next time this happens…

Picture your last first day. How did your stomach feel? Your chest? Your head? Did you wake up in the morning with a slight sense of dread? Use this moment of mindfulness to connect with your child. Share how your last day made you feel and how you worked through it. Validate their feelings with respect and curiosity. Your empathy has the power to reduce the fear driving your child’s strong reaction to the oncoming school year.   

Family engaging in play therapists tips to prep for back to school

To start a conversation with your child, validate what they feel. This will help them feel connected and safe instead of fearful or resentful. Next, redirect their attention away from the ickiness they feel by offering an invitation to work through the discomfort together. In their book The Whole Brain Child Dr. Dan Siegel and Dr. Tina Payne Bryson call this method “connect and redirect.” This book and other great resources aimed at offering neuroscience-backed childcare strategies can be found on Dr. Siegel’s website

a Play Therapist’s Conversation Tips

  • I know how hard ‘first days’ can be, and it seems like you might be feeling worried about starting 3rd grade. Let’s see how we can work through this worry together.” 
  • “Going to school feels hard sometimes. I have days when I want to stay at home all day too. I wonder if I can walk you to your classroom today to make it a little easier?” 
  • “It seems like the mornings feel tricky and uncomfortable. Should we give your teacher a head’s up, so they know you need a little quiet time before getting started on your work?” 

Children are not tiny adults. They need help pausing during difficult moments to reflect on their emotions. Nervousness, frustration, and anxiety feel strange and scary to a small person that has very little experience dealing with big feelings. Show them that you are connected to how they feel and will support them in developing strategies to ease their discomfort. Remember, you know what a first day feels like too!  

How BPC Can Help

Brittani Persha Counseling is a team of play therapists who are highly trained in working with children and parents with a variety of presenting concerns. Returning to school can be a challenging time for children and parents. We are here to help you navigate this transition. Want to learn more about our play therapists? Contact BPC today for a FREE phone consultation.

Houston Kids Therapist excited to work with your family.

About the Author

Juliet Duralde is a Licensed Professional Counselor Associate based in Houston, TX and currently practicing at Brittani Persha Counseling. She specializes in play therapy and primarily works with young children and adolescents struggling with anxiety, low self-esteem, behaviors, neurodiversity, and depression. Juliet also incorporates parent coaching and regular parent communication into her work to ensure the entire family system feels equipped and secure. 

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