Coping with Back to School Anxiety

Tips for Preparing for Back to School

Written by Dr. Alina Khomenko

Back to school time is just around the corner and for children struggling with anxiety, it can be a time of increased stress for children and their families. Below are some tips that can help parents and kids feel more prepared for the transition back to school:

Begin initiating expected bedtime and morning routines several weeks before school:

It is typically pretty challenging to switch from a relaxed summer schedule to a structured school schedule. Kids will be expected to get to bed earlier, wake up early, choose what to wear, and get ready and eat in a short period of time. These changes can lead to a lot of anxiety and stress for the whole family on the first day of school. It is helpful to begin this new school routine a week or two before the first day, so that everyone will know what to expect and so that when that stressful day rolls around, the morning routine will run more smoothly.

Model calm behaviors:

Often, parents also experience increased stress around this time and when children recognize this, it may exacerbate their anxiety too. Demonstrate calmness and positive behaviors, talk out loud about steps you are taking to keep calm, and invite your kids to practice coping tools with you.

Listen to your child’s concerns:

When kids discuss their worries about school, it is a great opportunity to validate their feelings and communicate to them that what they are feeling is ok. Try your best to avoid providing reassurance and being dismissive (“you’ll be just fine!”, “there’s really nothing to worry about!”), as this might communicate to them that their feelings are not valid and potentially lead to feelings of shame.

Make a plan:

Kids might communicate worries about certain teachers, peers, or certain parts of their day that might be causing particular distress. After validating and reflecting back their feelings, invite them to make a plan of how to deal with the situation, if they would like. This might include helping them identify what to say to someone they want to make friends with, to prepare what to say or steps to take if someone is bullying them, or to discuss what to expect during lunchtime and other uncertain or unstructured parts of the day. Role playing the situation is a great way to help them feel confident that they can handle a feared situation.

Expose your child to the environment:

Sometimes practicing the morning routine and making arrangements for the child to be able to come to the school to walk the halls before school begins can help the child become more familiar with an unfamiliar situation (particularly when they are going to be attending a new school or a new classroom). By role playing your morning routine at home, taking them to school, and walking around with them to see where everything is located, you help them know what to expect and increase their comfort level. 

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