Some kids squeal with excitement about of the start of the new school year – new backpacks, sharp crayons, picking out the first day of school outfit.
Other kids refuse to admit that the day is coming, they choose to soak up every last drop of summer before turning their attention towards the inevitable.
There are some kids, though, who show back to school anxiety.
For these kids, summer days are filled with anxious anticipation, worrying about everything from their new teacher to the social order of the lunch table.
Signs That Your Child May Be Worried About School
Your child may not show many signs that they are feeling anxious or worried about the upcoming school year. However, some children display these symptoms:
Statements about school – “I don’t want to go to 2nd grade.” Or “I wish I didn’t have to go back to school ever again.”
Preoccupation about school-related topics – Finding the “right” binder, going over-and-over a school schedule
Changes in sleep patterns – difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or sleeping more than usual
Changes in eating patterns – eating more or less than is typical for your child
Changes in mood – a normally happy child may be more irritable, defensive or easily frustrated
How to Help Your Child with Back-To-School Anxiety
- Talk About It – Open up a conversation with your child about what you observe. Something like, “You seem to be mentioning school a lot lately, do you want to talk about it?”
- Ask Questions – Try to get to the heart of the worry, “I wonder if you are feeling nervous about who will be in your class this year” or “It seems like you are wondering if you will like your new teacher.”
- Listen – Some children just need to talk about their concern. Resist the urge to try to fix their problem, instead, offer an empathetic ear and a little physical affection.
- Rephrase – Rather than using a cliche response, “You’ll be fine” or “Don’t worry about it,” let your child know that you hear their concern, “It sounds like you’ve been giving this a lot of thought.”
- Make it Normal – Many children feel mixed emotions when thinking about the next school year. Identify some different feelings your child may be experiencing, excitement, fear, wonder, sadness, worry, etc.
- Brainstorm Solutions – Talk with your child about what they think would help ease the anxiety, brainstorm ideas together, then pick a few to try (see below for more ideas)
- Set A Schedule – Even though school may be weeks away, start to focus on the school routine. Begin to implement a bedtime routine and work towards an earlier bedtime.
- Seek Help – It may seem easier to think, “she’ll be fine once school starts,” but it’s important to address your child’s worry and provide them with ways to handle feeling anxious. If you are unsure how to help your child, it may be beneficial to find a mental health professional who works with children.
Creative Ideas for Back To School Anxiety
- Visit the school
- Have a picnic on school grounds
- Eat a snack at the bus stop
- Walk or bike the route to school frequently
- Email the new teacher
- Color a welcome back to school banner to bring to school
- Connect with friends from last year
- Plan a Back to School BBQ with other families from your child’s school
- Donate school supplies (change the focus from self to others)
- Decorate binders or folders with things that make you smile
- Create a “If I miss you…” book filled with pictures of your family, home or favorite things to keep in their backpack at school
- Practice taking deep breaths when feeling worried
- Use guided relaxation or visualization
- Read books about going back to school
- Put on a puppet show about starting school
- Write a story or play about a character who has to go to school
- Make a list of fun things to do before school starts, get busy!
Older kids may want to try…
- Arrange a time to walk through your schedule and find your locker
- Identify the school counselor’s name and office location
- Review math facts or spelling words
- Braid or bead a bracelet or key chain to help you feel calm while at school
- Take pictures of favorite things to hang in your locker
- Decorate your binder with things that make you smile
- Shop for school supplies with friends
- Pick out some of your favorite supplies from elementary school to donate
- Write a book to help younger kids with back-to-school anxiety
- Organize a back-to-school picnic for the kids in your neighborhood
Back to School Anxiety May Happen After School Starts
There is a chance that your child may not show signs of school anxiety before the new school year starts. Some children start to show signs later. You may see some of the same signs as listed above, but you may also notice: unwillingness to get up for school; reluctance to talk about school; faking illness to stay home or a drop/change in grades or performance.
If you notice these signs, follow the same suggestions above for starting a conversation with your child. If that does not seem to help or you need more support, it may be time to seek professional help from the school counselor or a child therapist.