Back to School Anxiety

“Back to school”…the dreaded 3 word phrase that for many parents conjures up images of alarm clocks sounding and frantic mornings, shopping carts full of school supplies, backpacks, lunch boxes, etc.  

Or perhaps you are one of the lucky ones who loves shopping for crayons and prepares for the new season ahead with enthusiasm.  Parents don’t all feel the same way about the end of summer and of course, kids also approach the start of a new school year differently.  If your child shows signs of being anxious about the new year here are a few tips to help.

1)  Take advantage of school orientation sessions.  

It helps the child to see the classroom(s) and meet the new teacher.  Be sure to tell your child it’s ok to ask questions.  Model that yourself by asking the teacher questions about the daily routine and special activities.  Walk the path from the classroom to the bus line or pick-up area with your child.  

2)  Teach or practice social skills a week or so before school starts.  

Does your child feel comfortable greeting people and introducing himself?  Go over topics like taking turns, using table manners, and having empathy for other students.  Don’t be tempted to rush in to help your child with every situation, but teach them the skills they need so they build mastery and self-confidence.  

3)  Reassure your child that the things that are important to him are important to you

Hug your child before and after school, ask about their highs and lows from the day, ask who they ate lunch with and who they played with at recess.  You are their safety net, and not all children will share openly, but it’s up to parents to take the lead and show interest in the everyday stuff. It strengthens your bond when they share the details of their days. When they get older they will be less likely to pull away if communication patterns are already strong. 

4)  Contact your school guidance counselor.

If there have been any changes in the family over the summer make the school counselor aware of them. If your child is anxious about the start of school, ask the counselor to allow him to come by the office for a short break or even call you from the office during lunch if the child needs reassurance during the day.  If your child does not adjust to the change within 5-6 weeks consider play therapy after school.  There are tools kids can learn through play therapy sessions that allow the child to express their emotions and build effective coping skills.  

5)  Give kids opportunities for exercise and fun after school.  

The school day is rigorous for early Elementary aged children, and there aren’t enough opportunities for them to be active.  Encourage outside play time or sports for fun (rather than competition) for physical and mental health benefits.  Exercise promotes healthy brain development and decreases symptoms of anxiety in children. 

6)  Ensure your child is getting proper sleep and nutrition. 

Sleep and nutrition are vital to your child’s development.  Seven to ten days before the start of school begin implementing a nightly routine to help your child relax before bed.  He should get to bed early enough that he can wake up to his alarm with sufficient time to get ready for school and have a healthy breakfast. Call your child’s physician if you need guidelines on the amount of sleep needed for his age.