Expert Corner: Back-to-School Anxiety: 5 Ways Caregivers Can Help
The start of a new school year can be an exciting time. Many kids and teens are ready to reunite with friends, connect with their favorite teachers, and try new extracurricular activities. But returning to school after summer break can also cause worry in kids and parents. Dr. Samantha Pflum, child psychologist and Clinical Assistant Professor at UNC School of Medicine, offers caregivers strategies to support their children with back-to-school anxiety.
Worries about the “unknown” can dominate back-to-school season. A new school year brings different schedules, teachers, coursework, and social situations. Navigating these new challenges can leave kids and parents feeling anxious about the year ahead.
Many kids and their caregivers are still worried about getting sick from COVID-19, especially if they or a loved one have a chronic illness. Students may also wonder if a new COVID-19 outbreak will cause them to miss out on important social activities, such as participation in clubs and school events.
It’s also normal for parents to experience back-to-school anxiety. Parents may wonder how best to support their kids and teens during this time.
Spotting Anxiety in Your Child
Signs of anxiety show up differently for kids of different ages.
Younger children may refuse to go to school or become “clingier” with parents. Teens may express anxiety about their workload or peer interactions. Some kids and teens may experience a drop in school performance. Kids of all ages can experience physical signs of anxiety such as headaches and stomachaches.
Parents can help by talking openly with kids about their school experiences. Validate your child’s worries and help with problem solving when needed.
Coping with Back-To-School Anxiety: Tips for Families
Set a routine and practice it with your child.
Kids do great with routines! Make a daily schedule with your child to help them feel in control. Younger kids may like a visual schedule with pictures or symbols. Kids and teens may also feel less worried after going to school orientation or meeting their teacher.
Have regular check-ins with your child about how they are feeling.
As your child settles into their new routine, ask about the low, middle, and high points of their school day. If you know the source of any ongoing worries, you can help troubleshoot them. Promote healthy coping skills such as playing outside, drawing, and talking with friends and family.
Encourage extracurricular activities that interest your child.
Participating in clubs and sports gives students important social and skill-building time. These activities can give kids and teens something to look forward to at the end of the school day. Physical activity can also help to reduce anxiety and boost mood.
Empower your child and help them self-advocate.
Building self-advocacy skills is important for kids and teens. This includes understanding what we need and communicating that to others. Encourage your child to talk to you, a guidance counselor, or a role model in your community that you trust. Help your child find small victories throughout the day.
Be gentle with yourself and your child.
It’s important to be patient with yourself and your kids while everyone adjusts to the challenges of a new school year. Keep in mind that many students are still trying to “catch up” academically and socially after years of virtual learning.
Need more support? At Handspring Health, all our clinicians have expertise in evidence-based treatment for anxiety in children and adolescents. We also offer parenting sessions, so that every parent has the tools they need to support their children. Reach out to book a free consult today.