It’s that time of year again - back to school! It’s a time that can be fun and exciting, but one that can also bring worries and stress along with it. Transition of any kind isn’t the easiest process for a child, and returning to school is no different. Gone are the laid-back days of summer with later bedtimes, no homework and looser schedules.
What’s an example of back-to-school anxiety?
Will I fit in with the other kids? Who will I sit with at lunch? Who’s my new teacher? Is he/she mean? How difficult will my classwork be? What if I can’t understand it? Will my parents be mad if I get bad grades? Will I fit in? Will my outfits look dumb? Will I get made fun of? Will I get bullied? Will I experience peer pressure?
These are just some of the anxious thoughts your child could have at the start of the new school year. Anxiety affects everyone differently, but for some children it can be overwhelming. With all of this in mind, it’s essential that your child understands there are resources available to overcome it. Below are five ways you can help your child through the transition and enter the school year relaxed and ready.
Establishing healthy, open communication with your child should be considered a top priority. Try to find a time to sit down with your child and ask about how they feel going into the new school year. Find out what they are most concerned about and help them come up with some solutions that might work to relieve the concern. Remind them they can always come to you to talk if they have worries in the future, as well. Maintaining an open line of communication, without smothering them with too many questions, can keep them from shutting you out and keeping their worries to themselves. As parents, you cannot fix what you do not know exists.
Some phrases you can try to keep the communication going:
●“Hey, I’m here if you need to talk.”
● “I’m a good listener.”
● “If there’s something on your mind, I’m here to help...not to judge.”
● “What’s wrong? Let’s talk.”
Form healthy habits
Anxiety can cause your child to eat poorly, avoid physical activity or have trouble sleeping. Make sure this trio of important everyday habits don’t go by the wayside.
Provide nutritious meals while decreasing the amount of junk food (sweets, soda and other
sugary drinks, chips, processed foods, etc) you have at home. These foods are OK in moderation, but shouldn’t be used by your child to suppress their symptoms of anxiety - a poor habit that can last into adulthood. As much as possible, try sitting down as a family to eat a healthy dinner. This not only provides your child with the nutrients they need to do well in school, it also provides the entire family with time to talk and discuss the good and bad parts of their day.
Establish a routine at least one week before school begins that includes a consistent sleep schedule and daily physical activity. Both are proven to help aid anxiety and other mental health issues.
Keep a positive outlook! Remind your child that there are also fun aspects associated with
heading back to school that can help alleviate their symptoms. A few examples include:
●Participating in sports
●Participating in after-school clubs or projects based around other non-sport interests
●A fall class field trip
●Regularly scheduled playdates with friends
Encourage them to get involved as much as they can. Joining different teams or clubs can help
them develop new friends and new interests that make them happy.
Get to know the teacher
Make sure you’re on the same page with your child’s new teacher(s). It might be worth calling or
emailing them in advance just to introduce yourself, and elaborate that your child is experiencing some anxiety about returning to school. They’ll keep it in mind over the first few weeks, and will know to contact you if it’s impacting their performance or overall well-being.
Act as a problem-solver
If your child comes to you for help or advice, act on it. Using common phrases like “Don’t
worry” or “You’ll be fine” do not address the root of the issue, and offer little help on how to fix it.
Instead, start a conversation about their concerns and help find a solution. Questions you can
● What are some things we can do to get through this?
● Let’s think of some ways we can solve this problem.
Using “we” instead of “you” assures you’re there to help them through the process. They’re not in it alone.
These tips will help ensure a strong start to the new school year for your child. And if the anxiety
worsens, don’t hesitate to seek professional help with your provider at Capital Area Pediatrics.