Tips for Reducing Back-to-School Anxiety
Heading back to school is an exciting time for many children. They look forward to seeing old friends and meeting their new teacher. For some students, however, back-to-school time is filled with anxiety. They worry they won’t be able to keep up with the work, that the other children won’t like them, that the teacher will be mean. If your child has anxiety, he might worry endlessly about every detail, so much that affects his health, causing stomachaches or headaches, and he might try to avoid going to school or act out.
There are ways you can help prepare your child for back-to-school and lower his or her anxiety levels. The following tips might help.
Look for signs of anxiety, even before school has started. Is your child excited about back-to-school shopping or does he keep delaying picking out a backpack or new clothes? Does your child avoid conversations about school or look away when you mention the upcoming school year? Children can’t always express their anxiety in words. You have to look for signs of anxiety hidden in their behaviors.
Set up an appointment to talk with the teacher before the year begins. This is especially important if your child has a history of anxiety that impacts their schoolwork. If you have received accommodations in school through an IEP or Section 504, talk with the teacher and answer any questions she might have about implementing the accommodations in the classroom.
Have your child meet the teacher before the first day of school. You might want to set up a second appointment with the teacher so your child can meet him or her quietly, without any classmates around. This gives your child the chance to feel comfortable and reduce the fear that the teacher will be mean. You might want to ask the teacher to talk about the upcoming year and walk through a typical day. Eliminating the unknowns can greatly reduce anxiety.
Talk to your child about the upcoming school year. Keep the conversations positive. Remind your child about the things he likes about school and the friends he will see again. Allow your child to talk about how he is feeling. Be empathetic but avoid giving advice or telling him what he needs to do.
Talk about how you have overcome feeling anxious in your life. Let your child know that everyone feels nervous or anxious from time to time. This lets your child know he isn’t alone and that you understand how he is feeling.
Look for books and movies that talk about self-esteem, bullying and overcoming anxiety. For younger children, read the books together, for older children, talk about the books or watch movies together and then talk about how others manage their anxiety or improve how they feel about themselves.
Talk to the school about starting a anxiety support group or anti-anxiety group. Groups such as these help children feel less alone and give them a place to share their feelings and work through their anxiety in a supportive environment.
Watch your own anxiety levels. You want to set a good example for your child by showing them that you can manage your stress. Take the time to learn stress-reducing strategies, such as meditation, yoga or deep breathing. Use these strategies when you feel stressful and talk about how these strategies help.
Reintroduce the school routine. During the summer your children might stay up later, sleep in and eat throughout the day. Slowly start moving back bedtime and waking your child up earlier in the morning. Set mealtimes to coincide with the times your child will eat during the school year.
Set up playdates with classmates. If your child has not spent any time with classmates over the summer, try to set up some activities where he can get together with his friends from school. Your child might worry about who he will play with at recess or sit with at lunch. Cultivating friendships can reduce some of the social anxiety your child might be feeling.
Plan a special event for the first weekend after school starts. This gives your child something to look forward to instead of focusing on their anxiety. Use this as a way to reward your child for making it through the first week.
Involve your child in buying back-to-school items. Make a special shopping day to pick out clothes, shoes, notebooks, folders and other supplies. Plan to stop for lunch or ice cream once the shopping is done to help it feel like a special occasion.
Talk about what things make your child scared. Some common reasons children become anxious are: failure, taking tests, meeting new people, talking in front of the class or separating from you. You can address the anxiety better if you can narrow down what triggers your child’s anxiety.
Make sure your child gets a good breakfast each morning and gets a good night’s sleep each night. Children are better equipped to handle stress when they are healthy and well cared for.
When your child is anxious, don’t brush it aside or negate their feelings. Your child’s feelings are real and scary. He or she needs to know that you understand and are willing to listen. If your child continues to have symptoms of anxiety despite all of your efforts, it might be time to talk with your child’s doctor.