back to school anxiety
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Back-to-School Checklist: #2 Pencils, Ruled Paper, Anxiety…

Back to School Anxiety

I bet your kid is looking forward to school. But even if the general sentiment is of excitement and anticipation, they are bound to have some back to school anxiety for the new school year, no matter their age.  

Preschool 

They say that the first step to fixing a problem is to identify it.  So start teaching your little ones about emotions, ALL the emotions, as soon as you can.  Read about them, identify them, reenact them, explain them. All emotions are valid, but some are comfortable (happiness, pride, joy) and some aren’t (worry, fear, stress). Kids experience a wide variety of emotions and the sooner/better they are able to communicate their feelings, the less frustrated they will feel. 

Here is a list of books that help talk about comfortable AND uncomfortable emotions.

Aha! Parenting has a great article on preparing for preschool. Some of their tips:

  • Post a picture of the new teacher on the fridge. Talk to the picture in front of the child. “Mrs. Halloway, you are going to LOVE having Sam in your class. He shares really well with other kids, and loves to play hide-and-seek.” 
  • Visit the school and the teacher before school starts- interact positively with both.  Comment on what a good school it is, how clean, how functional it is. Compliment the classroom, smile at the teacher, express how much you are looking forward to seeing him/her again in the fall. 
  • Speak to the child about school, mentioning the name of the teachers, any of the kids they know in class, describing the rhythm of the day, etc.
  • Have a couple of play dates with future classmates, so they see a few friendly faces those first days.

Related: More ways to help your child cope with stress

Elementary School

Going into a new school is always hard.  Like before, take a little tour before the school year, meet the teacher or another adult that is likely to be present, and see if any kids you know will be in the class.  An article by anxietycanada.com suggests role playing to help kids work through their back to school anxiety. Let them act out their concerns and then you can model the appropriate response. You can also do a few dry-runs. Go to the school with the normal mode of transportation. If your child is riding the school bus, draw a picture of it, and trace its route, and show the area of school where the child will be dropped off and picked up. 

Middle School

Going to different classes, having many teachers, getting to class on time, locker rooms, changing bodies, voices, and desire to fit-in. Middle school, and the changes that go along with this age can be overwhelming. Ask your child about their worries and concerns. You might be surprised what they are. Look for solutions together. Here’s a great article with actionable solutions, like:

  • Logistics: Worried about getting to class on time/finding classes? Walk through the school or get a map of the school to plan out their route. Worried about extra homework? Find a good system of organization. 
  • Anxiety coping techniques: Remind your child of past successes, project confidence, practice calming techniques like meditation.
  • Routine: Establish a routine so that mornings are less stressful, homework/PE clothes etc don’t get forgotten, and that you get some rest each night.

High School

What does back to school anxiety look like for high schoolers? They are confronted with bigger questions and more stress.  The stakes are higher now. Where do I fit in? How do I look? Am I smart enough?  Ask your child what they are worried about. Let them vent. If they don’t ask for advice, don’t offer it. They are capable of figuring out their problems, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need support. 

If they do ask for guidance, use some of the same techniques as before, such as (re)establishing an organization method/routine, and teaching coping skills for when they feel stressed. This article on high-schoolers provides some helpful tips for addressing those big questions.

  • If students are worried about fitting in, to encourage their kids to pick something based on their interests, instead of whether a certain activity is ‘cool’ or not.
  • If your child wears something inappropriate, refrain from shaming language, particularly for girls. Self-esteem and self-expression are extremely important at this age and your disapproval can create lasting damage. Instead, get some pictures out of when you were in high school. Make sure you explain why it is important to have the standards of dress that you do.
  • If they are worried about grades, take an interest in the details of assignments, check in regularly to see where the hang ups are. Guide them find solutions, such as asking the teacher or a classmate for help, finding online resources, getting a tutor. Prompting them to solve their own problems shows them that you consider them capable and teaches them good skills for the future.

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