As summer comes to a close, many children and parents begin experiencing back-to-school jitters. Kids worry about getting a new teacher, meeting new classmates, and adjusting to a new routine. On the other hand, parents feel anxious about their child’s academic success and social well-being. To ensure a smooth transition into the new school year, learn to recognize the signs of anxiety in children and how parents can help relieve these feelings as the first day of school approaches.
Signs of Back-to-School Anxiety
Children express anxiety in various ways. Some vocalize their worries by outright saying, “School makes me stressed,” while others exhibit physical symptoms with no discernible cause. Here are some common childhood anxiety symptoms to watch out for:
- Continually seeking reassurance: Your child may frequently express doubts about the upcoming school year. These often take the form of “what if” questions. For instance: “What if my friends aren’t in my class?” “What if I get lost and can’t find my locker?” “What if my teacher hates me?”
- Increased physical complaints: Anxiety can manifest as physical symptoms, such as headaches or stomachaches, so don’t be surprised if your anxious child complains of pain or discomfort without apparent cause.
- Changes in sleep patterns: Anxious feelings can cause frequent nightmares or difficulty falling asleep. Your child may struggle to get a good night’s rest because they’re worried about school.
- Refusing to participate in back-to-school activities: Your child may avoid situations that remind them of the upcoming school year, such as shopping for school supplies or attending orientation events.
- Clinginess or reluctance to separate from parents: Anxiety in kids might make your child become overly attached, expressing fear or distress at the idea of being away from you during the school day.
- Irritability, mood swings, or outbursts: Heightened anxiety can lead to emotional instability, causing your child to become more sensitive and prone to acting up.
- Withdrawing from friends or favorite activities: Anxiety can cause children to isolate themselves from their peers or lose interest in activities they once enjoyed.
10 Tips for Taming Back-to-School Anxiety
Helping your child cope with their anxiety requires a supportive and empathetic approach. Here are 10 strategies to ease the transition and foster a positive attitude toward the new school year:
- Address the anxiety rather than avoiding it: Openly discuss your child’s concerns and encourage them to express their feelings. Be open to listening and provide a safe space for your child to share their thoughts and concerns about school.
- Validate your child’s feelings: Let them know it’s normal to feel nervous about starting a new school year. Acknowledging rather than downplaying their anxiety helps them feel heard and understood. Share your own experiences with anxiety and offer reassurance that this is a natural response to change.
- Ask thoughtful questions: Encourage your child to think about potential solutions to the challenges they may face. This empowers them to take control of their fears and build problem-solving skills. For example, ask what they’ll do if they can’t find their locker or how they might handle a bullying situation, and brainstorm ideas together.
- Read stories that explore back-to-school anxiety: Choose age-appropriate books that address this topic and help your child understand they are not alone. Reading about characters facing similar challenges provides comfort and perspective while offering potential solutions and coping strategies your child can apply to their situation.
- Make a to-do list: Help your child prepare for the first day by organizing their supplies, planning their outfit, and discussing the schedule. This eliminates uncertainties and creates a sense of control. It’s also helpful to visit the school beforehand to locate their classrooms, locker, and other important areas so they’re already familiar with the environment the day school starts.
- Practice school day routines: Ease the adjustment by waking up, getting dressed, and eating breakfast as if it were a school day. Start these trial runs about a week out, and consider including the school drop-off to help your child feel more comfortable and prepared.
- Model calming behavior: Show your child how to cope with stress using relaxation techniques like deep breathing and visualization exercises. Demonstrating healthy coping mechanisms and incorporating them into your daily life provides your child with a positive example to help manage their own anxiety.
- Prioritize screen-less bonding time: In the week or two leading up to the first day of school, dedicate time to playing board games, doing puzzles, or playing outside together to help your child feel more connected to you without the distraction of electronic devices. This bonding time promotes open communication and ongoing discussions about your child’s lingering concerns.
- Encourage adequate sleep: Proper sleep is essential for managing anxiety, so establish a consistent bedtime routine and ensure your child gets enough rest. To promote a healthy sleep environment, consider limiting screen time before bed and creating a calm, relaxing bedroom atmosphere.
- Know when to seek additional help: If your child’s worries persist or significantly interfere with their daily functioning, it may be time to consult a mental health professional. Early intervention is crucial for addressing and managing anxiety, so don’t hesitate to get help.
Seek Mental Health Services in Brevard County
If you or your child could use additional support or guidance as the new school year approaches, don’t hesitate to contact Brevard Health Alliance. We provide integrated mental and behavioral healthcare services for people of all ages living in Brevard County, FL, and the surrounding area. Our experienced mental health providers are here to help you navigate the challenges of childhood anxiety and promote a healthy, happy school experience. Contact us today to learn more about our service offerings in Silver Palm/Melbourne, Sarno/Melbourne, Port St. John, Malabar, Barton/Rockledge, Titusville, and Palm Bay.