Ryan Greene, psychologist, Cache School District
It’s typical to see almost every student experience back-to-school anxiety on some level. In most cases, especially at the start of transition years (kindergarten, middle school, high school, etc.), it’s common for those jitters to diminish over the first few weeks.
Here are a few things that will help your child cope with anxiety:
1. Listen to your child. It’s important to listen to your child’s worries. Avoid minimizing their concerns with statements like “Don’t worry about it,” or “It’s not that bad.” Acknowledge their thoughts and feelings instead. By listening to your child, it makes them feel what they are experiencing is validated, and they will be more likely to share their anxieties with you.
2. Avoid the absent trap. It may be easier in the short run to allow your child to stay home when experiencing symptoms of anxiety. However, in the long run, students that are frequently absent miss out on instruction, opportunities to problem solve and chances to work through jitters. They also miss social experiences with classmates. Avoiding school can reinforce your student’s fears, which can make it more difficult to attend.
3. Enforce back-to-school fundamentals. Summers can quickly unravel a family’s schedule. Restructure by implementing earlier bedtimes, allow extra time in the mornings to get ready and eat a good breakfast, and, if possible, have family mealtimes together. These adjustments can set the foundation for a successful year by establishing healthy habits. In the school realm, spend some time at the school. Have your child walk up and down the hallways, identifying where they will go throughout the day. They could talk to the school’s secretary, or set up a time to meet their new teacher. Having concrete knowledge of a place, or meeting someone ahead of time can do wonders to reduce stress.
4. Encourage problem solving. It’s important to remember that kids are just like adults in some ways; they want to be able to talk about something that bothers them without expecting you to fix the problem for them. Instead, help them brainstorm some ways to address their worries.
For example, help them draw a map of the school and the main areas they will be going. Role playing different situations with different solutions can also be helpful. It may also be beneficial to remind your child that every worry has a lie. A great parenting opportunity would be to help them differentiate between the lie and a healthy way of framing the problem.
How do you know if your child is experiencing back-to-school anxiety? Learn to identify these common symptoms:
- Isolation from family/friends
- Increased tantrums, irritability or crying
- Sleeping problems
- Observed changes in eating behavior
- Stomach aches
If your child needs extra support this school year, talk to your child’s teacher, school psychologist, school counselor or principal. If these symptoms are lasting longer than a few weeks, it may be beneficial to contact community resources that can help address ongoing needs.
For more ideas, read Hey Warrior by Karen Young and What to Do When You Worry Too Much by Dawn Huebne or visit heysigmund.com.