Tips to Help Kids with Back-to-School Worries

Tips to Help Kids with Back-to-School Worries

Back to school can be an exciting time of year, buzzing with fresh haircuts and new school supplies. But it can also be stressful.

In the days or weeks leading up to school, anxiety in your child may show up as

  • clinginess or reluctance to separate from parents
  • physical symptoms such as headaches or stomach aches
  • loss of appetite or trouble sleeping
  • irritability or moodiness
  • crying or emotional outbursts (this can be a way for kids to release pent-up emotions)

Frequent fears from K to 12

Elementary school

  • What if nobody is there to pick me up?
  • What if I can’t find my way back to my classroom?
  • What if the toilet overflows?

Middle school

  • What if I can’t get my locker open?
  • What if the other kids make fun of me?
  • What if my friends aren’t in my classes?

High school

  • What if my friends do things I don’t feel comfortable doing?
  • How will I keep up with my grades?
  • What will I do after graduation?

Fostering resilience

According to Tania Johnson, a registered psychologist and co-founder of the Institute of Child Psychology, when kids are given opportunities to successfully overcome their worries, they build new neural connections in their brains, and their resiliency blossoms.

Here are some ways to help kids find success:

Ask (and really listen)

During moments of worry or fear, kids need a calm and compassionate presence, without being “talked out of” their feelings.

Tip: Teens may find it easier to share their emotions while doing something together (like driving in the car). Younger kids can’t always articulate what’s worrying them, so using picture books can help increase their emotional vocabulary (for example, discuss what the characters might be thinking or feeling).

Avoid avoidance

It’s normal for kids to want to evade the things that scare them. However, when kids face their fears, they gain confidence and flexibility.

Tip: Break down fears into small, manageable steps. Start with situations that are less scary (for example, a kindergartener worried about going to the bathroom at school could start by going with a parent before the first bell). Eventually, work your way up to harder situations (such as going to the bathroom alone).

Focus on belonging

To make school a safe place, help kids feel connected to their environment.

Tip: Start before the first day. Visit the school’s playground a few times, or contact administration to arrange a school tour or a meet-and-greet with your child’s teacher.

Reach out

Positive changes are more long term when parents work with their child’s village. Talk to your child’s teachers and school counselors to brainstorm ways to support your child.

Tip: For most kids, anxiety will fade as the school year progresses. However, if your child’s anxiety is causing them great distress, reach out to a mental health professional who has experience working with kids and anxiety.

By Dr. Amy Green, R.Psych

Article copyright 2023 by Alive Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Photo by Max Fischer:

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