Starting a new school year can be both scary and stressful for a child or even a grown up.

But the more prepared the more prepared the person is for the new phase in their life the less they will have to fear or stress out.

The words ‘back to school’ strike fear or anxiety in many learners, but they don’t have to. Starting a new year is often a challenge, but with a little effort you can help to ease your children’s fears.


Hein Hofmeyr, a clinical psychologist at Akeso Nelspruit, offers some key tips for mentally preparing someone for the new academic year.

1.     Motivate the person for the year by reading books or watching movies that are related to their phase at school, whether it is first year at primary school, high school, university or going to residence.

2.     Include the person in the preparation process. Involve them in shopping with you and encourage them to choose their own stationery, clothes and items for their room at the residence or their homework desk or space at home. If your budget allows, include a special item of their liking to further enhance their motivation for the year that lies ahead.

3.     Help the person in identifying their goals for the year. These should focus on academic, sport, social and family/home goals.

4.     Give the person the physical and emotional support that is required and communicate to them that you will listen, understand and assist them whenever they come to you with difficulty, problem or concern.

5.     Create a safe and secure space for the person to talk to you. Ask about their fears, concerns, and worries for the year and help contain their feelings regarding these aspects.

6.     Be part of the person’s on-going journey by attending meetings, functions and any cultural or sports activities in which they participate.

7.     Focus on the year that lies ahead and do not compare or relate back to the previous year. Bringing up the past might create fear within the person that they were not good enough, which could impact their self-esteem.

8.     Increase your child’s feelings of safety and security by bringing in another control element.  Assist them in creating a tentative time table which includes all the different activities that should take up time in their day. Examples include school, homework, meals, play, socialising, screen time (cellphones/tablets/TV), family time, hygiene and sleep. This helps create boundaries and responsible behaviour.


Set goals together

“One of the best techniques for preparing for the school year and also maintaining good performance is goal setting,” says Hofmeyr.

“Goals allow children to know what is expected of them and enable them to align their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours with these expectations. This can inspire and motivate them to take action with respect to their schoolwork, homework, and performance in all other spheres.”

“To ensure that goals are sustainable, it is helpful to align them with the child’s own objectives, as well as those of the family as a whole,” he adds.

“This allows the child to discover that if they are to achieve their dreams and fantasies they have to have smaller, step-by-step, short term goals in place that push them to become the best they can be.”


Warning signs

Should you observe that your child is struggling to deal with certain triggers, situations, fears or emotions in a way that this starts to impact their functioning at school, academic performance, sports participation or relationships with friends and at home, it might be a good time to seek therapeutic help from a school counsellor or psychologist. This is especially true if the symptoms last for two weeks or longer.

Hofmeyr says warning signs and symptoms include:

  • Intense feelings and mood changes – Feelings and emotions that are overwhelming and uncontrollable, as well as severe mood swings.
  • Behavioural changes – Drastic changes in behaviour that almost seem to be a change in personality. It further includes impulsive or dangerous behaviours with impacting consequences.
  • Difficulties with concentration – Difficulty sustaining attention or concentration or becoming impulsive and fidgety in a child that previously did not struggle with self-containment.
  • Weight changes – Unexplained weight loss or weight gain or a sudden change in appetite.
  • Physical symptoms – Those associated with anxiety and depression include muscle pain, headaches, stomach aches and pains without any medical or physical cause.
  • Physical harm – Participating in self-harming activities such as cutting or burning themselves deliberately or expressing thoughts of suicide.
  • Substance use – Consuming alcohol, cannabis, medication or illicit drugs that affect their functioning.

“If your child displays any of these signs or other behaviours that are concerning to you or impact their functioning, parents should take immediate action,” Hofmeyr says. 

“Start by displaying interest and a willingness to help by listening to your child and trying to understand the problem from their point of view. Even if your child shows resistance to receiving help, the subconscious message the child receives is ‘my parents are there for me and have not rejected or abandoned me’.”

Should you struggle to find a solution together, or lack the ability to offer advice to your child on the problem experienced, or if you feel that the situation is beyond your capabilities, consider talking to a teacher, principal or school counsellor, doctor or psychologist.


If the problem is more personal or family orientated, contact your doctor or psychologist for professional assistance. Akeso can be contacted at 0861 435 787 for an appointment with a psychologist.

-Adapted from a Press release