Managing Back-to-School Anxiety for Parents

school anxiety

Managing Back-to-School Anxiety for Parents

With the new school year approaching, some children may be experiencing heightened anxiety with the pending transition out of summer activities and back into an academic routine.  Depending on your child’s age, there may be different factors to consider as they approach the start of a new school year.  These factors may include a change in schools or school building for a new grade level, new teachers, new classmates depending on how the classes are combined or grouped, new performance pressures and expectations, new material that may be intimidating, new routes to classes, and overall new daily routines.  

Your Child’s Anxiety

Some children may thrive in having an alternating schedule, while others may do better with more consistency.  Some may be excited to start in a new school or new building to get a fresh start, while others may be overwhelmed by the thought of having to learn the layout of a new building and/or having to interact with new groups of children.  Some anxious thoughts that your child might have: Will I know anyone?  Will I make new friends? What if I do something embarrassing? What if something bad happens?  What if I forget my schedule or don’t know where my classroom is?  What if I don’t remember everything from last year and I fall behind?

How to Help Your Child

Here are some options for parents to explore when helping their children manage back-to-school anxiety:

  1. Show Interest in Understanding Their Perspective– You can help your child feel more secure by listening to their worried thoughts and showing them that you want to understand their perspective.  By taking time to fully hear their concerns, you may gain important information that will help you better understand your child’s needs and ways of problem solving.
  2. Validate Emotions– Let your child know that they are making sense.   “It makes sense that you would be nervous about the first day of school as it can be overwhelming to meet new teachers and classmates.”  
  3. Talking About Anxiety– You may want to talk to your child about the feelings they are experiencing and how it can impact the way they are thinking and feeling physically.  Let them know that sometimes when we feel anxious, we can start to believe that emotion as a fact- as if we are really in serious danger or that a situation needs to be avoided.  “With anxiety, we might think of the worst case scenario and believe that this will happen to us- what kinds of thoughts are you having about going back to school?  I want you to know that it is okay for you to feel nervous and anxious.  Sometimes when I feel anxious, my stomach does somersaults, my cheeks get red, my breathing gets faster and I can feel my heart racing, does that ever happen to you?”
  4. Reassure Your Child–  It is important for your child to know that they are not alone in how they are feeling and that this feeling is just a feeling, and it will change with time, and appropriate use of skills to change its intensity.  You also may want to gently remind your child that choosing to follow through on something even when they feel scared will be in their best interest.

“I am here for you, you are not alone. I want you to know that I understand when you feel scared, it can be hard to do something that seems scary and you may want to hide or avoid that scary thing.  I want you to know I am here to support you in managing your anxiety so that you do not let it hold you back from doing something that is important for your growth and learning.”

  1. Demonstrate Confidence- If you project calmness, security, and steadiness, your child will feel more secure in their ability to handle a new challenge.

“It’s normal to feel unsure about the unknown.  This is a new experience for you and for all of us and even though it may not go perfectly, we can remember that we are still capable of doing new and challenging things.  This is how we grow, learn and build our strengths to overcome challenges and build confidence.”

  1. Practice Coping Strategies- Deep breathing skills, self-soothing techniques, mindfulness games, coping tool kit, planning ahead, and identifying healthy distractions to bring to school can all be a part of preparing for back to school.  

In our next blog, we will explore these specific coping strategies for managing back to school stress that you can practice with your child.

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