Help for back-to-school anxiety

August 22, 2014 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary, High School, Middle Years

Anxious feelings are normal and expected in times of transition, particularly with a change such as going back to school.

For younger children, anxiety often revolves around separating from parents. For older children, it’s frequently about social situations such as fitting in, making new friends and personal performance in specific areas such as academics, music or sports.

How will you know if your child is anxious? While every child may exhibit anxiety in his or her own way, there are some tell-tale signs. Some children become more emotional, while others get quieter. Some will want to stick closer to mom and dad, while others will want to stay close to home.

If you think your child is anxious about the start of school, there are some ways to her deal with it, even if you can’t completely eliminate the stress.

Here are some tips to get you started, with resources below to find additional information:

Acknowledge her fears.

Let your daughter know what she is feeling is normal. Share a story about a time when you were nervous or scared but faced your fears despite those feelings, and how you felt empowered by it. Remind her of previous instances when she was anxious but overcame those feelings.

Don’t give her feelings too much power.

Acknowledging her fears doesn’t mean you agree with them. If your child is afraid of being laughed at during a public speaking class, you don’t want to dismiss her fears. At the same time, you don’t want to intensify them by feeding into them. Listen, be empathetic, and let her know you believe she can face her fears – that it’s OK to be scared, and you’re there to help her through it.

Don’t try to protect him from the feelings.

You don’t want your son to be unhappy, but trying to shield him from experiencing the feelings can backfire and be detrimental in the long run. Letting him experience anxiety can help him learn how to tolerate it and continue to go through life as best as he can. Avoiding the situation won’t help either. Allowing a child to miss school can make the anxiety harder to overcome in the future.

Talk it through.

Say your son is anxious about missing the bus home. Ask him what would happen if he did miss the bus. Where could he turn to for help? Having a plan – and feeling empowered because he helped develop that plan – can be an effective way for some children to manage anxiety.

Focus on the positive.

Going back to school means reconnecting with friends, perhaps meeting some new people, and getting to know more teachers. The best part? School provides an opportunity to learn something new and exciting every day.

Be a role model.

Our children take cues from how we manage various situations. Let your kids hear how you manage anxiety – calmly tolerating it and feeling good about getting through it – and you’ll serve as a positive role model.

A final note: There are times when a child’s fears and anxiety may warrant seeking professional help. Contact a mental health professional if a child’s anxiety:

  • Seems out of line with the situation
  • Continues for more than a few weeks
  • Seems developmentally inappropriate, or
  • Causes a child to have trouble functioning


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