Back to school anxiety and nerves aren’t uncommon in students of all ages, and with back to school season in full swing, we want to help children understand that these emotions are okay and valid. A 2022 survey found that ⅔ of students feel anxious about going back to school after the pandemic (Recovery Village, 2022).
It is important kids understand what their feelings mean and are able to identify how they feel. A good place to start is teaching social emotional learning skills, such as Self-Regulation, This is where self-regulation comes in. Self-regulation is a skill that helps students manage their behaviors and express emotions in constructive ways. This happens when students are aware of their feelings, able to articulate them (e.g., “I am feeling sad because…”), and can make decisions about how to respond to stimulation.
There are so many ways to integrate fun games and activities into your classrooms during the first week of school to combat back to school anxiety. Here are 10 of our favorite activities to calm back to school nerves:
1) Freeze Dance
Nothing is better than a good old fashioned dance party! Have a dance party with a group of friends, classmates or family members and tell them to hold very still when the music stops. Those who move while the music is stopped will be eliminated and can dance on the side until the game is over. The winner is the last one dancing (Howes, 2020). Dancing allows for a release of that anxious energy and playing the game with people the child or children are comfortable with can allow them to focus on the support they have around them and not feel alone heading into the new school year.
2) Create a Calm Down Space
Creating a designated “Calm Down Space” in your home gives children a place to retreat when they feel out of control and rejoin the family/group when they feel ready. It is important your child feels comfortable in the space and would be willing to go to this space if overwhelmed without being told they have to (Jain, 2021). The best way to do this is to decide and create the space with your child. No one knows what they like best better than themselves. So allowing them to be part of the space creation will allow them to feel some control over the space and add items that they feel would calm them down. This is a great idea for someone anxious about going back to school because they have time to themselves to reflect on how they feel and take action to combat these emotions.
3) Take a Walk
Taking a walk sounds so simple, but can be so helpful. There’s a reason why people go for walks to clear their heads. The fresh air and exercise allows for a calming energy release and the natural rhythm of walking creates a self-soothing quality capable of calming some anxiety (Jain, 2021). These walks are a great way to release some of that nervous energy about going back to school. As a bonus, your child may open up to you on the walk and then you can have a discussion of what they are feeling while enjoying the calm and beauty of nature.
4) Name the Emotion!
Sometimes the scariest part of back to school season is not understanding how you are feeling. Fear can produce more fear and not understanding how you feel can definitely heighten an already upsetting emotion. So take the time to talk with them and name the emotion. Do not tell them how they are feeling, but rather allow them to discover how they feel on their own through discussion. They may disclose their fears, things they are excited about and everything in between. Use this conversation to help them identify how they feel and redirect perspective to the more positive parts they are experiencing. Understanding their emotion and reframing perspective is a great way to calm back to school anxiety.
5) Mirror Mirror
Not much takes more focus than copying exact movements. This activity can be as simple or complex as you want it to be! This is a great exercise to address controlled movements and attention (Heffron, 2017). Allowing a child to pay attention in this activity will allow them to want to pay attention to other things, including their feelings. This builds self-regulation and allows a child to identify their emotions to be able to combat them. As well, working on controlled movement can allow for a child to learn that they have control. Their emotions are valid, but there are things that can be done that can control them or make them feel better. The better that they can control how they respond to their feelings the more effective they will be at calming back to school anxiety.
6) Yoga for Anxiety
Not only is Yoga meant to be calming, but it is active too. Nerves are energy working in overdrive and so releasing this energy is a great way to identify and calm that overactive energy. Watch our SEL Summit on ‘Using Mindfulness & SEL to Support Student and Teacher Well-being’ to know where to start. Other options are to go to Yoga classes or follow along to a Youtube video.
7) Play myPeekaville
At Peekapak, our online learning game is amazing to not only teach SEL skills like self-regulation, but also to calm some nerves. Children are able to identify how they feel with the check-in upon logging in and then can complete challenges to earn berries (points). Sometimes a distraction is the best thing to calm nerves, but playing this game also allows kids to develop skills and coping strategies for those nerves.
Television is a great distraction, but reading is better! Not only is it entertaining, but it also helps develop some of those literacy schools before heading into a new school year. Many stories are even written to teach a lesson or two. At Peekapak, our unique and original stories are catered around SEL topics to allow for fun and learning! Our story, ‘The Peekapak Pals and the Classroom Chaos’ is a story all about self-regulation. Our story is all about back to school anxiety and how to respond and take action to those feelings. Reading stories that connect to how a child is feeling can allow them to listen better to the story and take advice they gather.
9) Breathing Exercises
Taking the time to ‘catch your breath’ so to speak can be used to cope with big emotions. Anxiousness usually includes an elevated heart rate and so just taking the time to breath and slow down that heart rate can be an instant back to school nerve relaxant.
Exercise 1: Count to 5
- Take a big breath in for five seconds
- Hold for five seconds
- Breath out for five seconds
- Repeat (for as many times wanted or needed)
Exercise 2: 1, 2, 3 and Breathe
- Close your eyes and start taking deep breaths
- Identify three things you can feel
- Identify two things you can hear
- Identify one thing you can smell
The identification of what is around you allows you to think in the now, rather than the later, in this case back to school. It allows people to think one step at a time, rather than everything flying through their mind all at once.
10) Plan Ahead (SEL Activity Calendar)
Sometimes going back to school has such a nervous build up because that is all kids have to focus on in the summer. Summer break typically comes with less to do and so that leaves more time to play that ‘what if’ game in your mind. So plan ahead, keep children busy or have something to look forward to besides school. This could be a day trip or even small activities. At Peekapak, we got you covered with our August downloadable SEL Activity Calendar for Elementary and Middle School Students.
With so much going on this time of year it is easy to get overwhelmed, but use some of these 10 activities to help calm back to school anxiety. As well, check out Peekapak and our SEL program to learn more about what we offer and the major SEL skills we teach.
Peekapak can help with our amazing program, downloadable content and activities!
Peekapak is a rapidly growing education technology company and aims to change how educators and parents teach and develop important social and emotional skills to students. Peekapak helps embed this into classrooms by providing an effective, easy, and engaging program for all users of the online platform, which includes educators, administrators, students, and parents/guardians.
Peekapak is dedicated to the education of social emotional learning (SEL) to students ages Pre-K to grade eight. Peekapak’s goal is to help children become successful, compassionate, caring, and empathetic people by teaching important SEL skills that can be used the rest of their lives. At Peekapak we do what we do to ensure a more socially and emotionally conscious world of the future.
At Peekapak, our program is backed by research (elementary school and middle school) and is aligned to the Collaborative for Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL). CASEL sets the standards of SEL. SEL topics include self-regulation, teamwork, friendship, perseverance, honesty and more. Our program begins in the self-regulation unit after a brief ‘What is SEL?’ unit to allow students to understand and cope with that back to school anxiety. Peekapak continuously works to better and improve their SEL program to make it fun, easy, and seamless for teachers, parents and especially children, so that kids learn without even realizing it! Peekapak does this with their online platform, unique stories, pre-made lesson plans, school-home connection, onboarding/professional-development training sessions, music lessons and so much more. Even offering a Spanish option of the books for elementary school students.
Heffron, C. (2017, February 10). How to help kids with self-regulation: 30 games and activities. The Inspired Treehouse. Retrieved August 5, 2022, from https://theinspiredtreehouse.com/self-regulation/
Howes June 4, V. (2020, June 4). 6 simple games that teach your kid self-regulation. Today’s Parent. Retrieved August 5, 2022, from https://www.todaysparent.com/family/activities/simple-games-that-teach-your-kid-self-regulation/
Jain, R. (2021, February 22). 50 calm-down ideas to try with kids of all ages. GoZen! Retrieved August 5, 2022, from https://gozen.com/50-calm-down-ideas-to-try-with-kids-of-all-ages/
Recover Village. (2022, June 2). Survey: Kids Anxious About Going Back to School After COVID-19. The Recovery Village Drug and Alcohol Rehab. Retrieved August 5, 2022, from https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/teen-addiction/kids-anxious-about-school-after-covid/#:~:text=Survey%3A%2066%25%20of%20School%2D,to%20School%20After%20COVID%2D19