Coping with Back-to-School Anxiety

– by Rosanna Fikes, MFT

While going back to school can be exciting, it often provides some level of anxiety as well. Whether your child is attending a new school or returning to an old school it is normal to experience some butterflies. Common concerns for youth beginning a new school year include:
• Will my friends be in my class?
• Who am I going to hang out with at lunch?
• Will the schoolwork be too hard?
• What if I don’t like my teacher(s)?
• What if other kids make fun of me?

As a new school year may present some anxiety for most students, those who already experience anxiety and depression may find this time even more difficult. Some signs to notice include, lack of sleep, changes in eating habits, tearfulness, irritability, and outbursts. If your child is exhibiting these behaviors, consider that he or she might be stressed about the upcoming school year.

It is important to know that there are tools available to help alleviate these feelings. Keep in mind, reducing anxiety can take some time and most likely will not completely dissipate overnight. Here are some simple tips for parents to help make the back-to-school adjustment a success.

Use empathy and problem solve

Listen to your child’s concerns and offer validation. Be open and accepting of all feelings he or she is willing to share. Rather than offering reassurance try helping your child identify strengths and problem solve about what he or she can do in the situations creating stress. Consider offering opportunities to have a conversation rather than asking direct questions. Kids generally feel more comfortable talking when there is less pressure.

Tune into your feelings

Take note of your own feelings related to the upcoming school year. Are you worried or stressed about anything? Maybe how your child might do in a given situation, or just adjusting to the new schedule. Kids are really good at sensing a parent’s emotions. So, if you are feeling stressed or anxious, then your child will most likely be feeling that too. Be sure to utilize your own outlets for support and self care in order to be most present and available to your kids.

Develop a routine

Transitioning from a loose summer schedule to an active school schedule can be difficult for the entire family. Having to wake up earlier, get ready, and eat breakfast before leaving the house can often lead to a stressful, chaotic morning for all. Having time to adapt to the new schedule can be very helpful. Consider allowing at least a week to adjust to the new morning routine in order to ease getting out the door on time. Don’t forget to make adjustments to sleep and bedtime routines as well, as they will greatly influence the morning transition.

Utilize supports

It may be helpful to contact school supports such as your child’s teacher or the school counselor. The beginning of the year tends to be overwhelming for everyone, so if you are able to offer information that can create a smoother transition for your child, do not hesitate. The buddy system or peer support can be helpful too. Help your child connect with his or her friends so he or she feels less alone when starting a new year.

Know when to seek help

While it is very normal to experience some stress and anxiety leading up to a new school year, it is important to recognize when additional help is needed. Consider seeking help from a professional if these feelings become so invasive that they are interfering with your child’s everyday functioning, such as eating, sleeping, and daily activities.

Rosanna Fikes, MFT, is a licensed therapist working with teens and adults at Petaluma Family Therapy.

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