Helping Your Child with Back-To-School Anxiety

Back-To-School Anxiety

By Mitchell Wittenberg, Ph.D., LP, JFS Counseling Director

The beginning of a new school year can leave many children and adolescents riddled with anxiety. While some can articulate their fears, many others express their anxiety with clinginess, temper tantrums, irritability, negativity, headaches or stomach aches, regressive behavior (baby talk, thumb-sucking), withdrawal, nightmares, or trouble sleeping. Here is a list of suggestions you may find helpful.
  1. Monitor your own feelings. If you harbor underlying anxieties as your child prepares for school, your child will pick up on these feelings. A relaxed parent often means a relaxed child.
  2. Ask your child directly how he or she feels about their upcoming school transition using open-ended questions like “How are you doing as you get ready to start middle school” rather than leading questions like “Are you feeling afraid/worried about going back to school?”
  3. Making as many unknowns known for your child de-mystifies school and gives them a sense of control, reducing their anxiety. Most schools welcome the opportunity for parents and children to visit their new classrooms and meet their teachers before school starts. Do a practice run for going to and coming home from school.
  4. Set up summertime play dates for younger children with peers who will be in their class or grade. Knowing classmates in advance helps children ease more comfortably into the school year.
  5. Before school starts, help your child get into the practice of going to bed and waking earlier, getting washed up and dressed, and having an un-rushed, nutritious breakfast. Children who leave home calm are more likely to enter school in a positive and productive way.
  6. Back-to-school anxiety will diminish for most children as they get into their new school routines and find that the things they worried about don’t come to pass. Your support, encouragement and praise for demonstrating behavior that helps your child confront their fears and move through them is often all that is necessary for your child to adjust confidently.