Returning to school struggles

Why the back-to-school transition can be difficult for children

Returning to school after the summer break can be tough and daunting for children. The structure, rules, authority, academic demands and social demands overwhelm many children. As psychologists, we would say the perceived demands and stressors outweigh their ability to cope.



It can be tempting to want to reassure children that they have nothing to worry about or it will all be alright. We find that reassurance rarely helps in the longer-term. We encourage parents to help their children make sense of their fears and worries before helping them to balance the scales with some skills and competence building.

In our new series of blog posts we will cover a separate demand and give suggestions as to how to help your child with this.

First up is separation anxiety:

Separation anxiety is when a child is worried about being apart from someone they are attached to. We can easily understand this for younger children – the tears at the school gate are a clear sign. However, it is every bit as important for older children but perhaps a little harder to spot and understand.

One child starting secondary school told us us their heart hurt as they got on the train every day of their first term at secondary school.

Separation anxiety can show up as:

  • worries about being disliked or feeling unsafe
  • worries about not being able to attain good grades
  • attracting attention of teachers for wearing the wrong uniform/makeup etc
  • constant messaging parents to check in

Tips to help you child with separation anxiety:

  • allow your child to touch base with you throughout the day, helping them to feel safe
  • lots of rest and downtime after school and at weekends – remember how tiring it is to start a new job
  • support them to develop healthy peer and teacher relationships to help hold them at school where they don’t have you
  • support them to develop new organisational skills to cope without you by their side e.g stick it notes on the fridge to remember PE kit or food tech ingredients
  • Touch base at the end of the day to each share how you are doing – this is particularly helpful for children that may be worried about their parent’s well-being

Next week we will cover academic and learning demands.

3 ways to get our help



Sign up to Our mailing list for hints and tips updates.

"Dr Andrea Shortland’s session for MediaCom on a children’s mental health was incredibly informative"

“Dr Andrea Shortland’s session for MediaCom on a children’s mental health was incredibly informative. During the second period of lockdown and home-schooling; parents and children found themselves again in a period of upheaval and transition. Many parents and carers were extremely worried about their children’s mental health and their own ability to be present and engaged whilst also playing the role of teacher and care giver. Dr Shortland gave attendees an insight into how many parents were feeling; tips on supporting children and helping them cope whilst studying from home and also managing their mental health. She also helped us realise the importance of taking care of ourselves in order to effectively support our children. It was such a useful session that we realise it was also pertinent for not only children’s mental health but also adults! We will be holding another session with Dr Andrea and MediaCom soon.”

Avelon Thompson, MediaCom (following a parenting workshop)