For Children And Teens Back-To-School Anxiety Can Be Troubling – Here’s How To Help
Heading back to school in the fall can be a source of high anxiety for many youths. The upcoming year is sure to bring academic stress, peer pressure, and all of the trappings that come with being a student and young person in a rather brutal world – and at a very critical time of mental, emotional, and physical changes.
If you are the parent, caregiver, or mentor of a child or teenager who appears to be experiencing a great deal of back-to-school anxiety, there are a number of ways you can help him begin to navigate the new school year.
1. Talk to the student about what specific thoughts are cause for anxiety.
Once anxious feelings are expressed, parents and others can help the student make a plan for the future to address their worries.
For example, if the child is afraid of bullying, talk to their teacher and other school faculty members to determine what can be done to stop the teasing or threats made by other students, if it should occur.
And I stress – at this time, you must accept your child’s feelings as legitimate and valid.
Don’t brush them off. Address them and don’t tell them what they should and should not feel. Acknowledge their feelings and pursue action that may help.
2. Plan ahead and help her know what to expect.
Make sure the child meets their teacher, and if they are transferring to a new school, they are given a tour and orientation and introduced to faculty. This process also includes talking with the student to determine what academic issues may concern them and devise ways to help them – or find out how others can help them.
For older students, this also likely entails getting familiarized with a class schedule and locating various rooms, bathrooms, lunch room, locker, etc.
In general, children need to know what to expect and feel prepared. Most anxiety stems from uncertainty, and can be relieved by assuring the student that she is equipped to perform academically and socially and enjoy the school year.
3. Address shyness and social anxiety.
If you know a child is shy or nervous about making friends, be sure to inform the teacher and other staff wh can help the student to socialize during class and other activities. Also, encourage them to meet others by sharing snacks, school supplies, etc.
For older children (middle school and above) ask about other students in their class seem friendly and down-to-earth, and discuss or role play how they can initiate a conversation with the other student(s).
4. Follow a routine at home.
Enforcing a routine can significantly affect a child’s performance at school. This means bedtime and wake-up time should be consistent each day. Meals should on a schedule as well as homework time, and both organized efficiently around other after school activities, such as sports.
5. Prepare the child for changes that may be associated with the new year.
Many of these are age-based and can include significant life encounters such as puberty and exposure to alcohol or alcohol. Make sure the child is educated at an age-appropriate level and understands the dangers of substance use and how they can cope with temptation. Communication between child and parents is absolutely key.
6. Encourage the student to do what he loves.
For all students, but especially teens, fitting in is important. Encourage students to seek out activities and academics in which they are truly interested. Anxiety increases when students feel like they are forced to try to be something they are not. In short, don’t push them in a direction in which they are uncomfortable.
7. Remind the student that the goal is not perfection, but persistence and holding on.
Anxiety may not go away instantly – it takes time to develop plans, routines, and coping skills.
Moreover, if Day 1 isn’t the greatest, that doesn’t mean that Day 2 is going to be exactly the same.
8. Seek professional help if necessary. If anxiety becomes unmanageable, speak to a school counselor or professional therapist to see if they can offer further assistance.
Remember, some amount of back-to-school anxiety is normal. However, if the child is having trouble functioning (i.e. eating, sleeping, etc.) and continues to ruminate over worries to a distressing extent, it might to time to reach other to others who can help.
Along these lines, you may want to seek out community centers or spiritual guidance if applicable. Explore church or community-related youth groups that can help with socialization, offer support, and give the student an outlet and something else to focus on besides school and academics.
Above all, keep the lines of communication wide open. If there are feelings that the student feels uncomfortable talking to a parent about, seek the help of counselors, peers, relatives, mentors, etc.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Child & Adolescent Psychology Back-to-school anxiety