Gah! It’s a topic of discussion for many of our CityMoms this month.

How can we reduce back to school anxiety for our kids {ok, and parents too}?

In this month’s installment of Ask Amanda, our resident counselor Amanda Campbell tackles this question with 5 easy tips:


Hi Mom and Dad! Let me tell you first and foremost: It will be okay. Tears and clinginess are normal for kiddos, especially if you’re tackling a milestone like going to school for the first time.

To reduce some of their back to school anxiety this fall, try out these easy, kid-friendly strategies and techniques. Bonus: They’re great for adults, too!

1. Name it to tame it

When we help kiddos name their feelings, we equip them with knowledge. They now know what’s happening and can learn ways to manage specific feelings. Reassure them it’s okay to miss you or be scared, which normalizes their feelings. It’s okay to join them by saying you’ll miss them too. Share your own experience with starting school. And remind them that you’ll be reunited at the end of the day.

2. A few deep breaths

My favorite anxiety-reducing strategies are ones that use our bodies because hey! We always have our bodies with us.

Balloon Belly Breathing is a great one. Lie on the floor with your kiddo and place your hands on your bellies. Imagine there’s a balloon inside. Close your eyes, slowly inhale, and picture the balloon expanding as your belly expands. You should see your hands moving up as you inhale. Slowly exhale and imagine the balloon deflating. Do this for five breaths.

3. A wet noodle

Another great body technique is called progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). In this we practice relaxing and tensing individual body parts from head to toe, all while taking slow, deep breaths. For kiddos this is called the Spaghetti Noodle Game:

Have your kiddo lie down. Ask them to describe an uncooked piece of spaghetti {words like stiff, tense, rigid}. Then, have them mimic this by tightening up their whole body with arms straight at their sides. Ask them what happens when the spaghetti gets cooked (e.g., limp, floppy, wiggly). Now, have them go limp, wiggle and shake the tension out. Repeat a few times, holding each pose for a count of five.

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4. Go to your happy place 

When we’re upset or in an uncomfortable situation, it can be helpful to have a visual representation of a safe, calm place. Here’s a script to read with your kiddo that helps them create their own happy place.

We’re going to play a game where you get to create your very own happy place. This is a place you can visit again and again when you want to feel safe and secure. Close your eyes and take a few deep belly breaths. [Pause]

Imagine a big door in front of you and on the other side will be your very own safe place. Take a couple more deep breaths, open the door, and walk through it.

What do you see? Remember, you can create and change this place around as much as you want. You can decorate it anyway you want, with trees and flower or animal friends. [Pause]

Notice the colors around you. What color is the sky? Are there any clouds? Notice the weather. Is it hot and sunny? Feel the warm sun on your face. Is there a breeze? Feel the wind on your skin and blowing through your hair. [Pause]

Notice any noises. What do you hear? Are there any birds or animals making sounds? [Pause]

What can you smell? Can you smell the flowers or the trees? Breathe in the familiar smells. [Pause]

Find a comfortable spot to sit down. Feel the ground underneath you. Know that this place is safe and secure and all your own. Know that you can come here anytime you like. Breath in and feel calm. Breathe out any worries or troubles. Just relax for a few minutes and enjoy this safe place that you have created. [Pause]

Slowly get up and walk back to the door. Take two more deep breaths. Open the door and walk through. Take one more look back at your safe place and then close the door behind you. When you’re ready, open your eyes.

5. Finding the right equipment

Whatever you do, avoid saying things like ‘Don’t worry about it. It’s not a big deal. Everything will be fine. Calm down.’ Statements like these come from a good place, but they minimize feelings and offer generic reassurances.

What tips have you found to help with anxiety?


Amanda Campbell headshot - theCityMomsAmanda Campbell is a licensed counselor with a practice in Westfield, just north of Indianapolis.

She counsels worry warts, distant couples & also offers online coaching packages for busy moms who want to have it all on their terms.

Amanda lives with her husband, two boys, and not-to-be-ignored cat Sphinx.