Caroline Miller: Back to School Anxiety - How to help kids manage worries and have a successful start to the school


The start of the new school year is exciting for most kids. But it also prompts a spike in anxiety: Even kids who are usually pretty easy-going get butterflies, and kids prone to anxiety get clingier and more nervous than usual. Parents feel the pain, too: Leaving a crying child at preschool isn’t anyone’s idea of fun. And having to talk a panicked first grader onto the bus or out of the car at school can be a real test of your diplomatic skills.

Kids who normally have a little trouble separating from mom and dad will see their anxiety peak during times of stress or transition, notes Rachel Busman, clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute. The start of school may be especially challenging for kids who are entering a transition year, she adds — going into kindergarten, into middle school, to a new school. It can also be stressful if there’s a change in your child’s social support system — maybe a good friend has moved, or has a different teacher this year.

For most kids the new-school-year worries will fade and the anxious behaviors will be transient, Dr. Busman adds. The goal for parents is to be supportive without exacerbating your child’s worries. Here are tips for helping nervous kids have a successful transition back to school.

Take your own temperature

For parents, the start of the year can be anxiety inducing, too, Dr. Busman notes. The pressure’s on you to reinstate routines after the summer break and arrange for new activities and schedules, not to speak of facing the resumption of homework.

Dr. Busman recommends taking your own temperature to make sure you’re not passing on stress to your kids. And to enable you to manage your own stress, she says, it’s important not to take on more commitments than the family can handle comfortably. “I think there’s a contagion effect that we have to be careful of,” she adds.

Related: Finding the Balance With After-School Activities

Listen to worries

When kids express anxiety about going back to school — a new teacher, increases in homework, making a team, a friend crisis — do listen seriously.

Rather than dismissing these fears (“Nothing to be worried about! You’ll be fine!) listening to them and acknowledging your child’s feelings will help him feel more secure. And if he wants to, you can bolster his confidence by helping him strategize about how to handle things he’s concerned about.

But keep in mind that kids often want to be able to talk about something they’re upset about without expecting you to fix them. Your job is validate their feelings (“I know that’s hard”) and demonstrate confidence that they can handle the situation.

Don’t ask questions that suggest you expect kids to be anxious (“Are you worried about having Mr. Connelly for math?”) but check in with them in a more casual way. “It doesn’t have to be a half-hour discussion,” notes Dr. Busman, “but in the car on the way to get a new backpack, you might ask “Do you know what you’re going to be learning in math this year?” Kids often say more when there is less pressure to “have a talk.”

Click here to read the rest of the article from Child Mind Institute.


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