Tips for Decreasing Back to School Anxiety

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While there seems to be a general expectation that back-to-school time is an exciting time for kids, it can cause anxiety for many children.  In fact, millions of parents try desperately to coach their little ones through back-to-school anxiety each year.  

Some anxiety at the beginning of the school year is very normal following two months of summer.  Even when kids are enrolled in summer programs, the structure is different and there is a lot less pressure.

The first two weeks of school can be very difficult for kids, regardless of age.

While some anxious kids might melt down at the mention of school, others might engage in regressed behavior. 

Kids tend to worry about the unknowns at the beginning of each school year.  Which classroom will they be in?  Will their friends be in the same class?  What are the expectations?  Where will they sit at lunch?  The questions are endless, and that can be overwhelming.

The good news is that this type of anxiety is generally temporary, and most kids settle in within the first two months of school.  The best thing parents can do is remain patient and help kids settle into the routine.

Tips for decreasing back-to-school anxiety:

Kids tend to worry about the unknowns at the beginning of each school year.  Which classroom will they be in?  Will their friends be in the same class?  What are the expectations?  Where will they sit at lunch?  The questions are endless, and that can be overwhelming.

Normalize it:

It’s perfectly normal to feel worried about the upcoming school year.  Many people worry about transitions and new settings.  Talk about that with your child.  Describe a time when you felt worried about the start of school.  Talk about what made you nervous and what helped you to feel better.  

Ask for specifics:

Don’t assume that you know what has your child so worried.  You might think it’s the transition to a new teacher, when really it’s changing clothes for gym class or finding a friend at recess. 

Ask your child to describe her specific worries so that you can help her cope.  Listen and empathize first, and then help problem solve.

Take away the unknowns:

Anxiety tends to run on an active imagination.  When kids feel like they have little to no control, they start creating scenarios in their minds that lead to excess worry.  Kids want to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to coping with transitions.

Visit the school a few times before the first day.  Peek into the classrooms to get a feel for what the class might look like.  Download the school calendar and describe what a typical day might be.  Ask other parents about past curriculum and talk about it with your child.

Organize your home and family:

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A little bit of structure and a little less clutter  can go a long way toward creating a calming environment at the start of school.  You might function well in a state of chaos, but kids generally do not.

  • Create a homework center in a central location
  • Create a filing system for important papers and permission slips
  • Stick to a daily schedule as much as possible
  • Factor in quiet time each day
  • Prioritize sleep for the entire family  

{ MORE: The Importance of a Balanced Breakfast  }

Plan play dates:

Many kids worry about the state of their friendships as they transition to a new school year.  Often friends get split up and that can trigger anxiety about making new friends and how to handle lunch and recess. 

Plan a few play dates before school starts and during the first few weeks of school.  Time spent with friends helps kids feel safe and secure as they roll into the new school year.

Stay calm:

If you want your kids to be calm, you need to remain calm.  Back-to-school can be an anxiety-producing time for parents, as well.  You might have questions about the new teacher, the homework expectations, or what your child will be learning.  Try to stay focused on the positive and share your excitement about the new school year.  Your kids take their cues from you, be sure to send them happy ones. 

What do you think?

Tips for Decreasing Back to School Anxiety

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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1 comment

  1. Phammom says:

    I always thought school was fun.

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