Overcoming back-to-school anxiety

For many boys and girls, this is one of the best times of the year. New teachers, new clothes, new supplies — and an opportunity to move one step closer to being an adult. Three months ago, I was a lowly fourth-grader, but now I’m a big, bad fifth-grader. Look out, world, here I come!

But for other students, it’s not that great. Mysterious stomachaches and headaches, an abundance of tears and drama, and sudden bouts of moodiness or belligerence make back-to-school a particularly traumatic time for some families.

Often, parents contribute to that anxiety without realizing it. In an effort to create excitement about the new school year, they cause an already-nervous student to obsess about what’s ahead. And when that student shares his or her fears, attempts to brush off those concerns with responses like “Don’t worry, because everything is going to be all right” which may actually worsen the tension.

No matter how much you loved (or hated) school, remember that your child is a different person. It’s also important to remember that a new school year isn’t a point in time. It’s a transition process through which your child will learn new roles, new relationships, and a new set of expectations. Although many of the experiences are common, how we react to those experiences is as unique as each of us.

There are some simple steps parents can take to reduce back-to-school stresses. Whenever possible, involve them in the process. If they’re attending a new school this year or moving to a new part of the school, take them for a tour. If the school offers some kind of meet-the-teacher event, bring them, because it’s a less intimidating way to start a new relationship. Give them the opportunity to make choices related to the school year, like choosing their own backpacks and lunch boxes. Blue may have been her favorite color last year, but Mom, that was a long time ago! And that TV show is for little kids, not for me!

It’s tempting to fill up the activity calendar before school starts, but that’s not the best idea. In fact, scheduling fewer activities as summer break comes to an end and making sure that the kids’ evenings aren’t packed during the first month or so will help them make the transition. Getting back into the school day routine can be exhausting, so let them set the pace and enjoy quiet time, especially over the weekends. Enjoy quiet moments to reconnect with them at home.

Once school starts, show a genuine interest in their day. Asking “How was school?” is going to result in that time-honored reply, “Fine,” so try something different. Ask questions like “What’s the funniest thing that happened today?,” “What did you do at recess?,” and “If a UFO landed at your school, who should the aliens take away?” Questions like that are conversation-starters.

Most of all, relax. Your children will survive the start of school. So will you. If you notice anxiety or behavior that isn’t improving, give contact us. We can help. If you notice your school might need a little extra help with kids who don’t seem to be transitioning well, we can help with that too.