How to Help with Back-to-School Anxiety
Back-to-school is an exciting time for kids but can also be a cause of anxiety. Here are some tips for helping your child cope with back-to-school anxiety.
Address your own anxiety
Adjusting to kids going back to school can cause anxiety for parents, too. It means adjusting to routines after summer break, new schedules and activities, and helping with homework. Avoid taking on more than you can handle and manage your own stress so it does not get passed on to your kids.
Listen to your kids
If your child expresses anxiety about going back to school, for example, about a new teacher, homework, friends, or joining a team, listen to and acknowledge their fears. Instead of saying “everything will be fine,” help them come up with strategies for situations that are making them anxious. Sometimes they just need you to listen, so acknowledge and validate their feelings. Do not pressure them into a long conversation and ask quick questions instead so they do not feel stressed.
Common worries include:
- What their teachers will be like
- Whether they will have friends
- Whether their clothes are ok
- Who to sit with at lunch
- Missing the bus
- Understanding their schoolwork
- Something bad happening to their parents while they are at school
- Fitting in
Talk to a teacher
Let someone know your child is experiencing back-to-school anxiety. Talk to their teacher, a counsellor, or the school psychologist or nurse. Tell them your child is excited but a little nervous so they know your child might need some help. Ask if they can see their classroom or meet their teacher before school starts.
Do a practice run
If your child is nervous about going back to school, try to get them comfortable before school starts if possible. Do things like take them for a walk around the halls before school starts, introduce them to their new teachers, and show them where the cafeteria, gym, and their classes will be. Drive them to school on the weekend and show them where they will be dropped off and picked up.
Plan for a hand-off
If your child is anxious about being separated from you, see if you can arrange to hand them off to a teacher, counsellor, or even a friend so they feel more confident when they arrive at school. Give them something to do instead of letting them focus on their anxiety.
When their teacher reports back that your child is adjusting well, praise them for their progress and ignore whining.
What if your child has headaches or stomach aches?
Anxiety can manifest as a stomach ache or headache. If your child gets them a lot, take them to a pediatrician so a medical problem is not overlooked. But if it is related to anxiety about going to school, the best thing you can do is send them to school anyway. Letting them stay home reinforces the belief that school is scary and will not fix the problem.
However, if the physical symptoms persist, there could be a bigger problem that needs to be addressed, like bullying, OCD, separation anxiety, or an undiagnosed learning disorder.
What is school refusal?
An extreme pattern of avoiding going to school or leaving early is known as school refusal. It is distinguished from normal avoidance that every kid experiences once in a while by:
- How long it has been going on
- How strong the resistance is
- How much distress school causes for your child
- How much it interferes with their and your family’s life
If your child is experiencing school refusal, they should be seen by a mental health professional. The longer they stay away from school, the more their anxiety is reinforced.