For most kids, back to school means new teachers, new textbooks and new assignments. For other students, going back to school signals stress, anxiety and fear.
Whether starting a new school or simply returning to an old one, back to school season can be challenging for children suffering from anxiety issues. While professional counseling may be warranted, parents can also take several actions to alleviate their children's concerns.
Back to School Anxiety vs. Normal Nerves
A return to school after a long summer break is likely to trigger excitement and stress. Children will naturally wonder what their new teachers will be like, how much homework they will receive, if they'll be able to keep up with the course-load, and how they will fit in socially. With so many unknown factors beyond a student's control, it is only natural for children to feel nervous. Some children also feel isolated about their fears, unaware that most of their peers are feeling equally unsure.
Signs that suggest a child may be experiencing a potentially excessive amount of stress include:
- Changes in appetite
- Inability to sleep
- Excessive crying
- Emotional outbursts and irritability
- Refusal to go to school
If you suspect that your child's worries appear unusual or extreme, call your pediatrician or health-care provider. Some children need additional support, therapy and even medication. Others may benefit from gentle parental interventions that balance encouragement with support.
How to Help Your Anxious Child Start the School Year Right
Acknowledging a child's fears is a reasonable first step for parents to take. In recognizing the upcoming transition, parents should project a positive attitude about the upcoming changes and express clearly that they are confident in their children's abilities.
1. Normalize their discomfort. Letting your child know that his fears are not only normal, but shared by most other kids is tremendously comforting. You can even point out that teachers also face worries about their new classes.
2. Encourage open communication. Encourage your children to vocalize their fears, enabling you to address specific concerns. You can discuss a potential issue much better if you know what it is, rather than assuming you know what's worrying your child.
3. Familiarize the new experience. Children benefit greatly by having the opportunity to visit their new schools, classrooms, playgrounds and eating areas. Meeting a fellow student in advance will give an extra boost to ease first-day jitters.
4. Role-play. For younger children, role-playing the first day of school, starting with acting out the morning routine, saying goodbye, and pretending to head off can be both fun and enlightening. Parents can even trade roles with their child and model healthy and relaxed behavior.
5. Ask them about their first day. When children return from their first day of school, parents should also encourage them to share their feelings and experiences, creating an open and supportive environment to carry throughout the school year.
While going back to school is a common routine that everyone experiences, it is important that you address your child's feeling if he/she suffers from back to school anxiety. By following the above tips in the case of mild school jitters, or seeking professional help for more intense feelings of anxiety, your child will be all the better knowing that they have their parent's support on their side.