5 Simple Crafts That Will Help Kids Overcome Back-to-School Anxiety

by Leslie Tralli. 
(This article is part of the Positive Parenting FAQ series.

For some kids, heading back to school is something to look forward to – the excitement of seeing their friends again, the anticipation of playing on sports teams, and the intrigue of meeting the new teacher. These kids are planning their first-day-of-school outfits and chattering about resuming favorite recess activities.

For some of the other children, the thought of the new school year on the horizon brings not eager enthusiasm but anxiety. And for anxious little ones who are just starting school, the anxiety is even worse: what to expect?

Most kids though will likely feel a little bit of both – excitement on one day, anxiety the next.

How do we help our kids in that second and third category get over the dread of heading back to school? 

Creative activities are a great way to help relieve feelings of stress. Below you will find arts and crafts that are specifically geared towards helping kids get over their back-to-school anxiety. Whether you have a little one just starting school or an older kid returning to school, we’ve got you covered. 

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Craft #1: Create puppets and put on a puppet show

back to school anxiety article - puppet show

For some kids, it’s the fear of the unknown, whether that means the prospect of a new school, or having to take the school bus for the first time, or a jump from elementary school to middle school. While talking through this fear can help calm kids, acting out scenarios can better help your children to visualize situations and approach the unknown with a greater degree of confidence

Making puppets allows kids to act out various back-to-school scenarios and talk about what might be bothering them and resulting in back-to-school anxiety.

You and the kids can draw people representing students and teachers, glue the cut-out characters onto popsicle sticks, and make a show: “Hi kids! We’re going to learn lots of fun things this year!” 

Additionally, you can make paper houses, a school, a school bus, and playground structures. Your kids can “play” school before they get there.

What you need: paper; scissors; pencils, crayons or markers; glue; popsicle or other wooden sticks

What to do:

  • Draw the outlines of people, buildings, a school bus, etc.
  • If you make paper houses and a school, be sure to add tabs to the pictures before you cut them out so they can stand up.
  • Color the outlines. Add fancy clothes, and if you want, a backpack, a lunchbox and more.
  • Cut them out.
  • For the puppets, attach popsicle sticks or wooden dowels to the back. 
  • Put on a show, or play with the cut-outs.

Craft #2: Make a key ring to remind your kids of home

back to school anxiety article - talismans

For other kids, back-to-school fear might be more rooted in separation anxiety. It’s not that your child is anxious about what’s to come, but rather he doesn’t want to leave you and the comfort and security of home. In this case, making something that your child can take with him to school will help him to deal with this fear.

Using Fimo or a similar air drying clay, your child can make a key ring or talisman that reminds them of home and that they can keep in their backpack as a concrete connection to the familiar. 

What you need: Fimo or other air-dry clay; key chain ring

What to do: 

  • Fashion little clay objects: a house, a dog or cat, a favorite character (Peppa Pig, for example).
  • If making a key ring, be sure to make a hole in the object to attach the keyring.
  • Dry the objects according to clay instructions.
  • Attach a key ring and fasten to your child’s school backpack or keep the talisman in a backpack pocket.

Craft #3: Decorate a lunch box or bag

back to school anxiety article - lunch bag

For some kids, it may be social anxiety that makes school a scary place. 

If your child will be eating lunch at school for the first time, or if she’s anxious about lunchtime at school, help her to decorate her lunch box so that it can be a daily reminder of home in what is a potentially stressful situation.

What you need: lunch bag or box; paper; scissors; glue; crayons or markers

What to do: 

  • Decorate the bag or box with pictures of family, or flowers, or pictures of pets, etc.

If your child is anxious about eating a packed lunch, you could also brainstorm together about the types of food to pack in the lunch, and decorate a menu plan together so your child can anticipate what’s for lunch in the coming weeks.

Other great ideas for back-to-school crafts include making bookmarks and pencil toppers or decorating a binder. Using these items at school brings a sense of familiarity with your child’s environment when she isn’t at home.

Craft #4: Make a heart map of all the things your child likes about school 

back to school anxiety article - heart map

For kids suffering from general anxiety, their reluctance to go back to school may not stem from anything they can easily articulate, but rather from a pit-of-the-stomach feeling of dread. 

There are several ways we as parents can help our kids to manage their anxiety, from talking through anxious episodes to remaining calm ourselves when faced with stressful situations. 

When an overall feeling of dread hits, focussing on the positive aspects of the situation can help relieve the situation. A heart map is a great activity for this situation.

What you need: construction paper; crayons, pencils or markers; scissors.

What to do:

  • Draw a large heart on the paper. 
  • Divide the heart into sections.
  • In each section, draw pictures and write words of all the things that are great about the school, focusing on the positive things that kids like: friends, recess, Halloween parade, storytime. 
  • While you are working on this craft, encourage your child to talk about what they enjoy. Focus on the positive!

Craft #5: Create a daily or weekly planner or agenda

back to school anxiety article - agenda

For older children, back-to-school anxiety may not necessarily be related to homesickness or dread. These kids are looking forward to seeing their friends and resuming their activities, but rather they are feeling anxious about the workload to come. The thought of homework and assignments and juggling extra-curricular can become overwhelming and anxiety-inducing long before the school year even starts.

In this case, creating a beautiful daily or weekly planner or agenda is a great way to help manage those anxieties.

What you need: blank notebook, agenda, or journal, or even loose paper stapled together or compiled in a binder; Pencils or markers and highlighters. Bullet journals are all the craze and can be found in many art and stationery stores.

What to do: 

  • Decorate pages for each week or month of the school year. Draw pictures related to Halloween or Thanksgiving or Christmas to highlight things to look forward to. 
  • As tests and assignments are announced in school, have your child note these in her journal or agenda, and highlight them and draw pictures related to them. 
  • Plan out blocks of time for studying, research, assignment work and, just as importantly, fun time. Plotting out small chunks of time to work on projects is less stressful than contemplating the enormity of an entire assignment. 
  • Remember to schedule in time for a nature walk, or highlight a Friday night to go out for ice cream. This takes the pressure off and makes the planning more fun.

Back-to-school anxiety is hard on both kids and parents, but sitting down and calmly working through our children’s anxieties can help relieve the more crippling effects and lets them work through anxiety to face the prospect of school more calmly and happily.

2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents

For our quick contemplation questions today consider these:

  • How do your kids feel about starting/returning to school? Are they feeling excitement, anxiety or a mix of the two?
  • If your child has some anxiety, would doing a craft project help?
  • What anxiety and stress relief practices do you have at home in general?  

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Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents

  • Take a look at your calendar and schedule in some arts and crafts time. The dog days of August is a natural time to start preparing kids for school. 
  • Pick one of the crafts described above, or choose your own.
  • Talk about the crafts you will make together and include the kids on the trip to the Dollar Store or art store to shop for supplies.
  • Here are a few things to remember as you craft together –
    • Make sure that craft time is focused on making fun crafts rather than the life lessons behind it. 
    • Encourage your kids to chat as you make the crafts, but remember that the conversation doesn’t have to focus on back to school anxiety.
    • Find an area of the house (the fridge, or hang a bulletin board in the hall) to display your heart map, or to keep your puppets, as a visual reminder of the fun and positive aspects of school.
    • Take it one day at a time! Dealing with anxiety in a child is hard for any parent. Focus on the positive and celebrate small victories.