It’s pretty standard for a child to feel a little back-to-school anxiety after a summer away. Losing sleep, stomach aches, loss of appetite and continual worrying is another story.
“This time of year, there’s a lot of anxiety related to school,” says Claire Stoecker, an SLC-based Licensed Clinical Social Worker, who has helped kids through the loss of sleep and worse. “Kids just go from a time of not a lot of structure to a lot of structure.”
Of course, the anxiety is not always related to having summer off. Stoecker is currently helping a teen who is dealing with anxiety over going to a new school. Another is about to transition from a private school to a public one and doesn’t know what to expect. Kids also experience anxiety over academics, bullying and being away from parents.
Regardless of your kid’s anxiety level, you can make it easier by taking the advice Stoecker passed on to us below. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it, too.
What You Can Do about Back-to-School Anxiety
Signing up for sports and camps
Stoecker says parents can look to camps and sports leagues to keep kids’ minds and bodies active over summer, so when school starts, it won’t be such a hard transition. Yeah, we know it’s too late now, but you can start looking for next year.
In the weeks before school starts, Stoecker says bed times can be earlier so waking up for school won’t be so stressful. This means putting phones to sleep early, too. She also suggests creating a visual schedule on a white board or calendar, so kids will know what’s coming up. “You might just have to go over it with them the night before,” she says.
Stoecker says kids should be involved in their back-to-school shopping. Once the shopping is done, parents can help them get organized for the upcoming school year.
Helping your kids balance academics with downtime and extracurriculars, along with time to spend with friends, can help them keep their stress levels down.
Younger kids may experience separation anxiety when leaving Mom and Dad for school. To make it easier, Stoecker recommends practicing separation through play dates and other settings where kids interact together. Kids can also express their feelings of separation through drawing pictures, and rewards can be given when they do well with the separation.
Not taking phones away
We know, we know, you grew up without one. But in extreme cases, Stoecker says taking phones away can lead to suicide. Teens today connect with their friends through social media, and taking away their link to outside validation, especially if they don’t participate in extracurricular activities, can cause anxiety. “As a therapist, I really try to keep an eye on that and educate parents on not cutting off kids’ social and peer relationships,” she says.
Asking for accommodations
Kids who have been diagnosed with anxiety and other issues can receive accommodations. Those might include sitting in a different part of the classroom, having permission to leave class to calm down or rearranging their school schedules. In fact, your child may be entitled to it under Section 504 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
Sometimes, Stoecker says, younger kids and teachers are not a good fit. While we feel it’s important to talk to the teacher and try to work things out first, parents just may have to advocate for their kids by moving them to be in a different class.
Reducing academic pressure
When your A student gets that first B, it can be hard to take, especially if it’s hard for you to take. Stoecker says to be realistic about your expectations. “When the kid’s grades are slipping, talk about the importance of hard work and the process of learning, opposed to the end result of getting an A, even though they were pulling As in the past.”
Not bailing your kid out
Stoecker says there’s a difference between being helpful and bailing your kid out of every jam that makes them anxious. Use your judgement.
If your kid had trouble going to school last year, you may want to give teachers a heads up that they may struggle this year. You can also reach out to the school social worker or psychologist to have a support system in place before school starts.
Getting your back-to-school anxiety in check
Taking Stoecker’s advice can help reduce your anxiety over back-to-school, too. If your kids don’t seem anxious now, keep in mind that it’s pretty easy to pass on.
If you think your child should see a therapist, Stoecker recommends finding one on psychologytoday.com, asking a friend about their experience with child therapists or getting a referral from your pediatrician.
“There are so many child therapists out there,” she says. “Listen to your gut and look for a therapist you think will be a good fit, not only for your family, but for your kid.”
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