Child Anxiety, Teen Anxiety, Parenting

Handling Back to School Anxiety

Summer is almost over and it’s time to get ready for sending your kids back to school. While this time of year can bring relief and long-awaited consistency to parents’ lives it can also be quite stressful for some kids. For kids with less than positive feelings about school their anxieties and upset can be easier to understand. It’s more difficult to understand and support kids who like school. Why are they so anxious about going back?

In my work with parents I find that drawing parallels between their experience and their child’s experience really helps to cultivate empathy. Once they feel empathy they are likely to respond to their child in a much more productive and supportive manner. So let’s imagine a parallel experience together…

You’ ve gotten a new job that you’re starting soon. You like working and you’re really excited about the new company you’ll be working for. In fact, you know many of your colleagues and are excited about working with them as well. There are some uncertainties of course, as there are with any new endeavor, but on the whole starting the new job is something that is really positive and that you’re excited about. Starting your new job also means many of the things you’ve been enjoying over recent months you’ll no longer have time for. You’d really enjoyed have a less structured schedule and spending more time with friends doing leisure activities. You’ve gotten used to sleeping in, staying up late and leaving at a moment’s notice to go out of town. You’re really excited and yet you can help but stay up late at night and worry about whether this new job is all that you’ve hoped it would be.

By now you likely feel a combination of excitement and anxiety. That is exacty where you need to be to relate to your kids who are anxious about returning to school.

Even when kids are returning to the same school they’d been to the year prior there are all sorts of unknown variables. Who will their teacher be? Will they like their teacher? Will their teacher like them? Will there be a lot of homework? What if they struggle with the homework? Will their friends be in their class? What if kids start to tease them this year?

As parents we can definitely address some of these concerns but there are some that we can not. So what is a parent to do in this situation? Here are some ideas:

Express your empathy.

It may sound something like this, “I know you feel worried about going back to school. You’re not sure what will be different this year and that’s kind of scary. You’re really worried about having too much homework and not getting enough time with your friends.” Listen to see whether you’re on track or not. If you’ve gotten something wrong let your child correct you and acknowledge this. This will help them to feel validated and understood. “Oh I see, it’s not the homework you’re worried about, it’s whether your best friend will be in your class. I can see why that would be worrisome.”

Confirm your committment to addressing all their concerns and your confidence in they’re ability to handle everything (a.k.a. I’m here for you and you’ve got this!)

Some of their concerns can be addressed with a quick answer and others can not. It’s important to let your child know that you’re committed to addressing any concerns as they arise and getting any extra support they need in order to help them. Great parenting involves doing what you can and also acknowledging what you can’t. There is always additional support for your children’s concerns and sometimes your job is finding the best support available – tutoring help, specialized sports instruction, social opportunities and therapy.

It’s also very empowering to let your child know that you believe in them and they’re ability to handle whatever gets thrown their way. Remind them of other times when they successfully navigated stressful situations.

Educate your child about the nature of anxiety.

Anxiety is a normal response to change and the start of the new school year is a huge change. Letting your child know that anxiety alerts us to changes so that we can prepare for them, therefore their brains are actually attempting to help them. Let your child know that their brain is doing it’s job and that it’s perceptive beyond belief.

Encourage skills and habits to reduce anxiety. These include encouraging exercise in whatever form your child enjoys, being mindful of your child getting adequate downtime and doing your best to prevent him or her from getting overly hungry or tired. We know that anyone, child or adult, who is overly hungry or tired will experience more anxiety among other undesirable symptoms.

Be patient.

It will take time for your child to get acclimated to all the changes that come with the start of the academic year and it is expected that once they do they’ll start feeling better. Expect this to be a process and be patient with them. This is particularly true for kids who are transitioning to a new school or who are just beginning middle school or high school.

If you feel like you’re doing all the right things and your child is still struggling please know that there is help. Let’s discuss your particular situation and what else we can do to support your child. I’d be happy to help.


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San Rafael, CA 94903
(415) 233-2466

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