Tips to Help Manage Back to School Anxiety
Back to school time can be exciting for many children. While most children don't look forward to sitting in school, studying and homework, the first day of school, when they see school friends and share stories of summer activities is often fun and children look toward it with anticipation.
For some students, school phobia, or an intense fear of going to school, interferes with school life. For others, back to school anxiety is not debilitating but may cause apprehension. Students that have recently moved and are attending a new school or transitional students, those moving to a higher level and a different school may be at a higher risk of developing back to school anxiety. Parents can be on the lookout for signs and take some proactive steps to help their child cope with the anxiety.
Some of the signs of back to school anxiety include:
- Avoiding talking about school.
- Avoiding shopping for back to school items.
- Sleep problems that intensify as the start of school gets closer.
- Acting out or increased temper tantrums
- Young children may become more clingy
- Withdrawal from friends
- Talking about fear of riding bus or participating in other school activities
- Feeling as if he or she doesn't fit in
- Increase in physical symptoms, such as stomachaches or headaches
When parents see signs of apprehension about returning to school, the first thing to do would be to talk with your child. Find out what is bothering him or her and what is causing the fear. Keeping the lines of communication open is so important to helping your child cope with unknown situations. Let your child know everyone feels nervous in new situations. Some other ways to help your child:
- If you have recently moved and your child is attending a new school, contact the principal (often school personnel are at the school one or two days a week during the summer and more often during the month of August) and ask if you and your student can have a tour of the school. This will help your child feel more comfortable on the first day. He or she will have an idea where the bathrooms are, where the school office is, where the cafeteria is. If possible, see if your student will be able to meet their new teacher.
- If your child will be attending a different school within your own school district (moving up to middle or high school), find out if you can take a walk around the school before the first day. Your child may feel more comfortable if they have already walked the halls, found important places such as the gym, the cafeteria, the school office. Remind your child that all their class mates will also be in the school for the first time and are probably just as nervous. They will all be finding their way around together.
- Talk about relaxation exercises your child can do throughout the school day, such as deep breathing exercises.
- Include your child in shopping for clothes and back to school supplies. Make it a fun day, you might go out to lunch or stop for ice cream. Allow your child to make decisions as much as possible.
- Spend time creating a homework area in your house. Let your child participate in decorating the area and buying supplies.
- Be understanding of the apprehension but let your child know he or she still needs to go to school each day. Allowing a child to stay home will only increase the anxiety.
- Talk ahead of time to your child's teacher or guidance counselor and ask them to keep an eye out for potential problems.
- Emphasize the positive aspects of school.
Usually, back to school anxiety disappears within a few days or few weeks of beginning school, as the child begins to develop a routine and makes friends with classmates. If your child's anxiety doesn't diminish or becomes worse, you may want to make an appointment with your doctor. Anxiety disorders can be present in children and the sooner it is treated, the better off a child will be.
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