By Haneen Ahmad

As a mother, my worries are sky-high the night before the first day of school. Will the kids get placed with a great teacher? Will they easily make friends? Will they get picked on? Will they finish their lunch and have energy during the day? Having anxiety about going back to school isn’t just for parents though.  These days the levels of anxiety among kids are at an all-time high. Starting school can be terrifying for some kiddos. Worries are common, anxious feelings can be normal. Especially when it comes to time to return to school in the fall.

As a therapist, I always have a spike in referrals a few weeks before school starts. Parents frantically trying to get their child or teen in to meet with a therapist to develop tools and coping strategies for back to school anxiety. Anxiety is one of the most common challenges among my clients. 

Find out what about the return to school makes your child anxious. Is it meeting a new teacher? Is it making new friends? Is it the workload? Is it fear of eating alone at lunch? Transitioning to a larger size school? Then work from there. Here are some helpful tips for a smooth start to the new school year.

1. First and foremost make sure all the basics are taken care of.

Sleep and good eating habits are essential! A tired hungry state has yet to improve anyone’s coping skills. Make sure your kiddo is getting in opportunities to move their bodies in healthy ways as well. 

2. Listen, validate their feelings, ask questions.

Talk and encourage your child to talk. Discussing fears and feelings. Instead of saying “don’t worry!” or “it will be fine” try “Let’s talk about how to handle that situation.” Problem solve and plan. Role-play and explore different scenarios. This will help build your child’s confidence should they find them-selves in a situation where they need to speak up.

3. Create structure.

We all do better with structure and routine, especially kids and teenagers! Create a routine that helps instead of hinders. Establish a healthy bedtime. Set out clothing the night before. Attend meet and greet with teachers or open house if the school is offering one. If your child is a teen, set boundaries and expectations for the year and stick to them.

4. Engage in activities that will excite the return of school.

Go school supply shopping, splurge on those special pens they want or that awesome first day of school outfit. Start a day before school tradition with one of their friends. Get a new haircut. Play at the school playground during the couple weeks before school.

5. Model self-regulation and positivity.

If we adults can’t keep our cool we can’t expect our children to. Reframe into positive talk. Check your own anxiety. Often times, parents are anxious for their child. Maybe they are about to enter kindergarten, or maybe they got bullied last year. Children pick up on our worries so make sure you are modeling positive attitude.

6. Seek outside help.

And finally, don’t be afraid to ask for support. It takes a village. There are professionals who can help you come up with strategies. You are not in this alone. Start with your pediatrician who can give you a referral to a therapist as needed. School counselors are there to advocate for accommodations for your child as needed.

Go the extra mile: Additional tips

Pick out clothing the night before.
Have your child pack their own school back a couple days before school starts.
Plan out lunches for the week.
Put special notes in your child’s lunch box.
Send a special small object that comforts your child (rock, fidget toy, keychain etc).
Practice deep breathing with your child.
Visit the school several times before school starts.
Check in about weekend homework on Saturday instead of waiting until Sunday night.
Praise your child often, transitions can be overwhelming!

Some kids are just naturally more nervous than others. As a parent, your role is to support your child and all you can do is try your best to set them up for success. When kids are too anxious they are unable to enjoy the fun school has to offer. At the end of the day school is supposed to be an enjoyable enriching environment for our children. Any steps we can take to aid in that are helpful.