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How to handle your kid’s back-to-school anxiety

August 30, 2019 Dr. Jeanie Tse
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Labor Day weekend marks the unofficial end of summer and serves as a reminder for students, parents and teachers that the start of the school year is only days away. On Sept. 5, New York City’s public school students head back to class for the 2019-2020 school year. This time of transition and change can elicit a wide range of emotions from children — regardless of their age —- and be stressful for the entire family.

Children and teens worry about a number of different issues, from who their teachers will be, to making friends and fitting in, to being able to cope with school work, to being separated from their parents.

These fears are incredibly common for children to have. There are signs to look out for that will let parents know that their child is anxious about returning to school. Depending on their age they may cling, cry, or have temper tantrums, complain of headaches or stomach pains, withdraw, and become sullen or irritable.

If your child is struggling with back-to school anxiety, you can help! Below are some general strategies that parents can use to help their child deal with stress:

1. Encourage your child to share their fears

Ask open ended questions to elicit thoughts and feelings about school. Let them know it’s normal to have concerns and set up a regular time to talk in a space where they’re comfortable.

2. Explore fears

Do some “detective work” together with your child to find evidence that either supports or dispels their fears. Don’t assure them by saying things like “don’t worry” or “everything will be okay.” Instead, problem-solve and plan for situations that are giving them stress.

3. Think together about the fun things at school

Re-direct attention away from the issues stressing your child out by focusing on the positives! Ask them what three things they’re most looking forward to about returning to school, even if it’s something simple such as enjoying a snack or going home at the end of the day.

4. Restore routines

Anxious kids often don’t sleep or eat enough. Make sure they get back to their normal morning and bedtime habits, and set aside time for activities like reading and workbooks.

5. Celebrate the end of summer!

Make the most of the last few days before the start of school by spending time with your child and making the time before the start of school special.

It is important that children deal with this stress and anxiety so they can have a happy and productive school year. Be sure to let your child know how proud you are of them, and praise and reward them for their brave behavior!

Dr. Jeanie Tse is a board-certified psychiatrist specializing in childhood issues and the Chief Medical Officer for the Institute for Community Living

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