Beat the Back to School Nerves

In today’s show we speak with Dr Mary O’Kane lecturer in Psychology and Education about how to beat the back to school nerves!

She explains how it is completely normal to have mixed emotions about going back to school after time off, both excitement AND nerves.

She gives Buster and Buddy loads of advice on how to keep the nerves in check by focusing on what you DO know and like about school and she gives lots of really handy tools and techniques to use to focus and calm their minds…

…As well as explaining how the fear part of our brains is trying so hard to protect us, that sometimes when we experience change, it makes a mistake and sees this as danger….So we need to know how to tell it that everything is OKAY!

Listen to the show to hear what Mary teaches us, as well as lots of other fun stuff, like …and kids telling us their favourite jokes in Tickle Your Funny Bone!

And remember to Stay Healthy, Stay Happy and Stay Well!

Michelle and her team have a collective 50years experience working with kids as teachers, entertainers and parents!

Thanks to Zapsplat, Audio Jingle and Alexander Korotkoff for the sound effects and music.

Check out our social media to see more about the team, our guests, the topics we talk about, our competitions AND how to send us in your stories, jokes, comments or ideas for the podcast!

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Facebook: @thekidsareallrightpodcast


Dr Mary O’Kane

Dr Mary O’Kane is a Lecturer in Psychology, Early Childhood Studies and Education.

Mary started working in the media in 2015 with a Monthly Parenting Slot on the Anton Savage Show on Today FM. She continued working with Anton and his team for two years answering parent queries and giving advice on how to support children’s social and emotional development. She continues to work with Today FM, now on the Alison Curtis Weekend Morning Show.

Mary is also a regular contributor on Ireland AM discussing a broad range of parenting and childhood issues while responding to viewers parenting questions.



Louise Shanagher

Louise Shanagher is a children’s therapist, mindfulness teacher and trainer.

Louise has a BA and MSc in Psychology and further qualifications in Play Therapy and Mindfulness.

She is the creator of the “Creative Mindfulness Kids” method and has trained hundreds of people to be children’s mindfulness teachers.

She is the author of six books: The “Mindfully Me” series, Ireland’s first series of mindfulness books for children and the “Kindfully Me” series and the co-author of Ireland’s first mindfulness curriculum the “Mindful Heart” curriculum.

Louise is passionate about promoting positive mental health for children and young people. She believes that all children should get the opportunity to learn how to practice mindfulness and self-compassion and believes that these practices will help children lead happier, healthier and more fulfilling lives.



Hello and welcome to The Kids Are All Right. A weekly podcast specially for kids, that’s all about health, happiness and wellness.

I’m Michelle and here with me are my co-pilots on this

podcast, Buster and Buddy!

Hey, guys. Buster here.

Oh, yeah, fan favourite Buddy coming at you!

And we’re on a mission to help you all feel great and live

happy. Here we go again. All right.


So, guys, it’s finally back to school time for everyone this

week. Are you excited to be back?

Yeah. Oh, it’s great. Michelle, I’m so excited to see my

mates again and to get to play in sports and Oh, and drama. Oh, and art! It’s going to be brilliant being back.

Wow! That’s a lot of things you’re excited about Buster.

What about you Buddy?

Well, I am super happy to see my friends again and I do

enjoy all the extra things we do in school, like Buster said. But I don’t know,

I feel a little funny going back this time. I’ve gotten so used to being at

home that now it feels strange to be leaving home each day and being back in a room full of kids.

Well, you know, that’s perfectly normal to have mixed

emotions. After a long break out of the routine of school, it does take time to readjust and get back into the swing of this routine again. Even lots of adults feel a little anxious, worried, or maybe even a little sad when they’ve had a holiday and then it’s time to go back to work again.

Really, Michelle?

Yeah, for sure.

Well, I do find my stomach feels a bit weird….

Oh, quick, Michelle, open a window!!

Oh no Buster, not like that! It feels weird as soon as I get

up in the morning and I don’t feel like eating my breakfast. It’s funny, but I am finding it hard to get used to playing with all my different friends again as it has just been me and my family for so long.  

 Yeah, that is normal. But you know, there are lots and lots of kids feeling the same way you are and you know, you’ve been out of school for such a long time. And then you add in how strange it’s all being with coronavirus. It’s not surprising you have different feelings about going back.

Yeah, but even though I’m so excited about being back in school, it does feel weird. My brain isn’t working the same way it was before and I’m finding it hard to concentrate and remember

stuff. Oh, I can’t believe I found all this easy before we finished up.

Yeah, it’s tricky alright. Even after normal school holidays

at like say at Christmas or Summer or Easter there are so many different parts of going back to school that take time to get used to again. But with everything that’s changed because of Coronavirus, lets be honest, with the most normal of things, not being normal anymore, kids of all ages are finding it tricky to go back to school in lots of different ways…and that’s okay and it’s

perfectly normal.

Yeah, it’s just weird. And the noise of a;l the kids in the

classroom, I’m just not used to it anymore.

Yeah, and you’re giving me the loudest one, Buster. Yeah,


Is it any wonder, guys, the kids have mixed emotions about

going back to school? It’s both excitement and nerves. So we went out and asked you kids to tell us about what you’ll miss about being at home all the time, what you’re looking forward to about going back to school.

THE KIDS..SAY WHAT??!! (Vox Pops)

Oh, wow, so there’s a lot of other kids that feel there are

good and bad things about being back at school, too.

Yeah, exactly. A lot kids feel the way you do, but you know, there are things we can do to help settle back in and take charge of any worried feelings we may have about going back to


So that’s why we’re so pleased with our expert guest this

week who will have so much brilliant advice to help you guys and other kids settle back into the school routine.

It’s Dr. Mary O’Kane, lecturer in Psychology and Education.

Mary, thanks so much for coming on the show today with us.

Oh, thank you for having me, guys.

So, Mary, lots of kids find going back to school after school holidays little tricky. They’ll have so many different emotions racing around their heads. But this is really quite normal, isn’t it?

Oh, it absolutely is, Michelle. And it’s funny, I’ve been talking to some children who just went back the other week. And some are so excited that they’ve missed their friends so much and they are really they were dying to get back and others were telling me that, no, they had been quite happy at home with their grownups and they were quite nervous about going in.

Some were dying to see friends but were also feeling a little bit shy about seeing them again. So everybody feels a bit different. And that’s perfectly normal.

Yeah, exactly. And, you know, even in normal times, I suppose it’s tricky going back after a long break from the routine. And we were saying that, you know, even adults can feel that way sometimes after, you know, a summer break and having to go back into work. So even adults feel that way sometimes.

Oh, definitely, Michelle. I think a lot of the teachers

could be feeling that way as well, you know. we think we think for kids, Oh, my gosh, it’s such a big move going back to school, having been at home. But for the teachers as well, I’m sure a few of them are feeling a bit nervous about going back.

Yeah, I never thought of my teacher being nervous about

going back before !

And Mary, going back to school at this time is also different because school isn’t exactly as it was before, you know, with the

teachers wearing masks and, you know, lots of new rules about what you can and can’t do, how you move around the school, even how you play in the yard. And I suppose for some kids, this makes it a little bit more trickier to settle back in.

It does. But you know something, guys? We have to remember,

we did this before and remember we were off in the first lockdown and then everybody had to go back to school, we were all a bit nervous and no one knew what it would be like. But this time we can kind of think, well, hold on. Oh, look at all the things I do know. I know my friends will be there. I know my teacher and I know the subjects I’m going to do.

And you know what, last time we were nervous and we just found our brave and we did it. And I think it’s good to know we’ve done it

before. It kind of gives you the confidence to do it again.

Yeah. Hey, Dr. Mary, Buster here. Hey, so I’m really excited about going back to school. I missed my friends so much, but like I was saying to Michelle, I just can’t seem to get my brain working properly again.

I’m finding schoolwork way harder than I did before!

Ah Buster, don’t worry. You know why….we have these little

parts of our brain right in the middle of our brain, and it’s like our bodies little alarm system. And even sometimes if we’re excited about going back and we think, no, no, no, this is good. This little part in the centre of our brain, it’s called the amygdala. And its job is to keep us safe. And I always picture in my brain like a little toddler sitting in there as a little control station.

And he’s listening to everything I hear and he’s watching everything I see. And he thinking I’m going to keep her safe. But sometimes he kind of gets a little bit worried about things that he needn’t worry about and that can leave us feeling, oh, my gosh, I’m feeling out of control here and I don’t know what’s happening. And I don’t know if I’m doing things right and it leaves us feeling a bit anxious… so that might be happening to you a little bit.

And I think sometimes we need to send a message back to this

little warrior that, You know it’s OK, that, You know you can do it. And one of the ways we can do that is to do what we call our Belly breathing and belly breathing is when we take deep breaths in through our nose and we breathe right down into our tummies.

I don’t know if you’ve seen a newborn baby at all lately.

Ah yeah my neighbour only had a newborn baby after Christmas.

Well, you know, when you see those newborn babies and they’re lying there, they breathe and their tummy goes up and down each time they breathe, that’s how we should all be breathing. And when we are feeling a little bit anxious, when this little warrior, this little alarm system in our head is trying to keep us safe, we start to breathe really, really short little breath. So if we can breathe down into our bellies like that newborn baby, if we can breathe that our tummy nearly comes out, it sends a message back to this little alarm….Don’t you worry, everything is fine. And when he calms down, we calm

down. And that leaves us more in control to face the school and to face any homework we might be getting and any jobs we have to do.

Oh, hi, it’s Buddy here. Just when you say that thing there, but your tummy and stuff. And I was actually saying to Michelle earlier as well how when I wake up first thing in the morning, my tummy feels a little sick and I don’t feel like eating my breakfast. But I do know that once I get into school, I really enjoy myself. So what can I do to make these funny feelings go away?

Oh, Buddy. And again, I don’t think you’re the only one who

feels that way sometimes in the mornings or sometimes when we’re pulling up maybe in the car to the school gate and you get those feelings. That is really natural. And again, that’s this alarm system and trying to prepare you, if he’s thinking, oh, is everything’s going to be OK today, But there are a few things

you can do that can really help you So the first one is an idea called the hug button.

So whatever grownups you have at home and you draw a love heart on their wrist and you get a little love heart drawn on your

wrist too and you agree with your grown up, whether it’s mom or dad or granny, that any time you miss each other, if you’re in

school that day, you touch your wrist that little hug button and you’re sending a little secret magical hug back to them.

And it can just help you to remember I’m not alone. I have my grown up there thinking of me as well. And it can give you a little bit of courage to face the day.

Oh, that’s really sweet. I really like that. You know what? I’m going to do it right now. Hang on. I’m going to draw my love heart and I’m gonna tell my mom as soon as I get home that she has to draw one on her wrist, too.

Yeah, that’s a great idea, Buddy.

And there’s also another lovely one I think I heard you

talk about as well before called Worries in My Pocket.

That’s a lovely one, Michelle. So what you do as if you’re

feeling nervous about school you think about all the things might be making you a little bit nervous and you write them on pieces of paper or you’re grown up can do that for you. So you write

them down and you put them all on the piece of paper.

And then, they take the piece of paper and they put them in

their pocket and they keep them in their pocket the whole day you are in school. So they’re carrying those worries for you. I would say to the boys and girls, it really helps. And in psychology, we know that by writing down our worries, even writing them down helps. But if your grown up, puts them in their pockets and minds them for you, they hold them for you and it just means your lighter in your day and you don’t have to worry so much.

OK, so I’m just curious, maybe

I don’t know. it’s because I’m not sure if school will be exactly like it was before. It’s just things are so different now, Dr. Mary. It just worries me, the whole not knowing what’s going to happen.

Buddy I think we all get a little bit nervous of things we don’t know, things that might be different and things might have changed. And again, it’s that little place in the centre of our brain, it’s this little alarm system in the middle of your brain it it’s like the smoke alarm in your house. So, you know, the way your mom might have a smoke alarm at her house and if she burns the toast in the toaster,

Well she’s done that before!!

I do that, too. I do that too! I think there’s a lot of moms out there do! And the in this part of your brain its exactly the same. So it doesn’t know if you’ve just burnt toast or if the house is burning down. It responds. So sometimes when things are new and different, this little amygdala, this little warrior inside your brain, he just he gets a little bit worried and that’s what it is.

So, again, your breathing, your having your little hug button, talking to your grownups about it, it all helps. And remember, every time you feel scared, keep thinking of all the

things that you do know, that your best friend be there, your other friends, your teacher, the yard, all the things that won’t have changed.

Yeah, you’re so right there, because I suppose in a way

maybe the kids could think about and focus on being IN school. And not think about the ‘going to school’ because I think sometimes it’s that you know, like what Buddy was saying he gets the pains in his tummy and he doesn’t feel like eating his breakfast. And then it’s the walk to school and it all builds and

trying to walk through the gate. I suppose maybe if they could think about how happy and content they know they are once they’re through the school gates, sitting at their desk with their friends around and doing the subjects and the things that they enjoy.

Yeah exactly your friends and, you know, PE and who you may be playing with at the yard. What was their favorite game to play before? And I wonder when you play that game again or you

play a different game? I think of all the fun bits because it’s so much fun to be had in school.

Yeah, there’s so much fun. I love everything about school

and I’m so excited! So I’m going to focus on the fun stuff, when I get to do art, when I get to do P.E.. That’s a great idea, Dr. Mary. Yeah!

Oh, I can imagine you are just going to settle back in

perfectly Buster

But Dr Mary. I do know that I love school when I’m there,

like Michelle said. But I am finding it hard to feel normal about playing with my friends in the yard again, I mean, doing all the things we used to do. Why is that?


Again you know, it’s been a strange time for everybody. So we’ve been together in our little house, but we haven’t been seeing other people.

And when you get settled with not seeing other people,

sometimes it just becomes a little bit scary. And we have to find our inner brave, even for going back to see friends that we love. But every one of us hasour little inner brave inside us. And sometimes we just have to remind

ourselves, Oh, I can do this and let’s get out of my comfort zone a little bit and give it a try!!

Use my inner brave!

I have to say that all sounds amazing. So I’ve got my hug

button. I can tell my parents about all the things going on my head and then they can actually physically carry my worries for me. Oh, that’s brilliant. Ah these are so good. Do you have any more tips that could help me or anyone else listening feel better?

Well there’s another one called Pebble in my Pocket for you

and your grown up, go out into the garden or out into the park and you choose two pebbles that look really alike and you put one pebble in your pocket or you can pop it in your pencil case and your grown up, puts the other pebble in theirs.

And any time you’re missing them you just give your pebble a

little squeeze and it can help as well.

I love that!. I’m definitely going to go out and find two

pebbles after the show, give one to my mom and keep one for myself.

It’s great to have, I suppose, real concrete things that you can do that can kind of help you feel that bit safer and happier because, you know, I suppose over the last few months, everyone has got out of their normal routines. You know, even I found it really hard to get everyone up and get everyone dressed and out the door. It was actually nice not having to go to bed so early, you know, but it’s probably a good idea to start getting night time routines and normal bedtimes back again during the week now that we’re all getting back to school routine and that.

Oh, Michelle, it is. And I know what you mean Isn’t it

lovely, letting that routine go is lovely for a while. It’s

you know, I think we all get to the point we kind of like a little bit of

routine in our lives and it’s good for us. And you remember I was telling you

that that little amygdale, that little alarm, he loves routine that makes him feel safe. So we put routines into our lives. So if we say, OK, I’m getting up this morning and I know what I like to have my breakfast. I’m going to go to bed at night, maybe before bed, what am I going to do? My bath, my story. You do the same thing each night. That little amygdala, that little alarm it makes him feel Isn’t the world lovely and safe…And when he’s happy, we’re happy.

And, you know Mary maybe

it’s a good idea for kids to actually get involved in deciding the plan of action for the week. You know, maybe they work out, you know, what’s going to happen each day before school, After school, maybe what you need for your school bag, get your uniform ready…

Exactly. That’s so good for you. Even lunches, you know, so

many of us have been doing lots of different cooking and different baking and doing all this stuff. This is a great time to say, you know what? I’m starting my own lunches!

When we think about it over lockdown, we’ve had opportunities to do lots of things that maybe we weren’t doing before lockdown.

And I think our moms and dads probably realize that it’s

good for us to take on new things and to to take on new challenges. You know kids doing new stuff reminds everyone just how strong they are and how capable they are. And that is so important.

Oh, because I love knowing what I could eat for little

lunch and then what I’m supposed to eat for big lunch and just lunch. I just love lunchtime!

Oh yeah, cos lunches are one of the best bits of school..!

So I think, Mary, there are loads of things that kids can do to get themselves back into the school routine. I suppose they also need to give themselves just a little bit of time to settle back in and not expect too much and to know, you know, there may be funny feelings, but with time, things will settle back down again.

 Well, and remember that your

teachers know this. They really do. We’re all settling back in every one of the teachers and principals and SNA’s and students. Everybody’s just taking a bit of time to settle back in there.

That’s give me such confidence to go back to school. I

feel so much more relaxed now.

It’s really great to hear all your advice. I really think

that so many kids and their parents well, I found this really helpful as I get back to school and settle back into a happy and an enjoyable routine.

Oh, thank you, Michelle. Thanks, guys. Thanks.

By quickly Mary, before you go, what’s your favorite color?


Yeah, Thanks! Bye!


Wow, I feel so much better after talking with Dr. Mary, it’s

great to hear that most kids have mixed feelings about going back to school,

too, and that it’s really normal to feel excited, but also a little nervous.

Yeah, and I didn’t know that even adults feel this way sometimes when they have

to go back to work after holidays and it IS a bit weird now because a


But Dr. Mary said to focus on being IN school rather than

going to school because I know I’m happy when I’m in school and to focus on

things that are still the same. I have the same classmates. I go out to the

same yard every day, I have all the fun activities with my teacher.

Yeah, yeah. Focusing on what we do know and finding our

inner brave. And if we were feeling a bit worried, we can do I Bear Breathing,

making our bellies go in and out, really, really big to bring out our Inner Brave.


And it’s also good to remember why our bodies do funny

things when we’re feeling nervous that it’s just our brain trying to protect

us. It’s the fear part of the brain called the amygdala. And Mary said to think

of it as our inner warrior trying to protect us and that well, sometimes he can

get it wrong, though kind of like the fire alarm in our house. Sometimes it’s

not sure if the whole house is on fire or oh, maybe my mom’s just burnt a piece

of toast again. But we can talk to our brain and the inner warrior and say,

hey, thanks so much for looking after us but there’s no danger like in school

and that everything is OK.

Yeah, and I love that Dr. Mary had loads of physical stuff

we could do, too, and that could help us get back into school. I loved her and

she talked about the pebbles. I’m happily going to get one for me, one for my

mom and one I’m feeling a little bit worried. I can give it a little squeeze.

Yeah. Oh, and I love what Dr. Mary said about using the

worry in my pocket where I can write or maybe even draw any of the worries I

might have in my head on a piece of paper and then give this to my mom and dad

and they can put it into their pocket so that they can literally help carry my


And don’t forget, she said, to plan out your day. Brilliant.

Yeah, I think I’m going to ask my mom, can I help plan all my lunches for the


That would be fun. Oh, yeah. I’m going to get back into

routine again, like going to bed on time so that way I can get up nice and

early and start planning out my day, like making my bed, organizing lunch,

sorting out the school uniform and then oh maybe thinking about what music

should I listen to on the walk or drive into school.

Oh yeah like The Kids Are All Right! Podcast! Good shout Buster!

Now, that time again, it’s time to Tickle Your Funny Bone!

(Joke Time)

Ha ha!. After all that talk of exercise, it sure was good to

exercise our laughter muscle..!…ha!…you geddit, Buddy? You geddit?!

Today we’ve learned loads and laughed lots. And now it’s

time to give our brains a massage. So, guys, are you ready for this week’s Mini

Mindfulness Moment? Oh, yeah.

(Mindfulness section)

Oh, I feel so relaxed after that, guys. You know, it’s been

great today, thanks to all the kids who sent in their audio clips.

And, you know, if you have something you want to tell us, we

want to hear a story, a question or your favourite joke, we’d love to hear from


All you have to do is recorded in the voice recorder app on

a parent’s smartphone and then email it into us.

The email is in our show notes. Yeah.

Make sure to check out our website

for more details about sending in your clips and you’ll find loads of more info

about the show and everything and everyone we talk to.

We really hope you enjoyed this week’s show and learned

loads. If so, then tell all your friends.

Yes indeed. And remember guys, try to be healthy.

Be well.

And be happy !

See you next time on The Kids Are All Right!

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