End-of-School Year Anxiety in Children

Health Writer
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Gina is nine years old and will be finishing third grade in a few weeks. Most of her classmates are excited about the upcoming summer. They can’t wait for school to be out so they can go swimming, head to summer camp or go on vacation. But Gina doesn’t want school to end. For the past few weeks she has had stomachaches and she worries about the last day of school. She is going to miss her teacher and her friends. She worries that next year her friends won’t be in the same class. She is afraid that she isn’t smart enough to move up to fourth grade. She doesn’t think she will have a teacher as great as Mrs. Finch. Nothing will be the same.

Every year for about a month before school ends, Gina’s anxiety flares, says her mother, Evie. She thinks separation anxiety is part of it; Gina bonds with her teacher and her friends and becomes anxious at the thought of not seeing them during the summer months. Gina also has generalized anxiety disorder. “She is a worrier,” Evie says. “She worries about everything and even though she is a great student, she worries about whether she is good enough for the next school year.”

What you can do

  • Be proactive. Don’t wait until the first day of summer break to address the anxiety. Let your child talk about fears and concerns. It isn’t usually helpful to focus on the fears but you also don’t want to brush them aside. To your child, these are very real fears.

  • Talk to your child’s teacher. Some teachers don’t mind sharing a few emails over the summer break. Find out if this would be appropriate. Your child might feel better knowing this isn’t good-bye forever.

  • Set up a few play dates before the school year ends to give your child something to look forward to after the last day of school. Remind her that her friends are nearby and she can still see them during the summer.

  • Try to keep a routine similar to the school day. For example, plan meals around the same time for consistency. Structure activities so the day is broken up much like a school day; regular routines help your child feel safe and secure.

  • Seek help if you see increased signs of anxiety or depression, such as irritability, increased tantrums, changes in sleep or appetite, clinginess or other behavior changes that signal your child needs extra help.

End of middle school anxiety

The end of elementary school can bring about feelings of anxiety. When your child heads back to school in the fall, he is entering a whole new world. He might need to change classrooms, navigate crowded hallways, figure out how to open his locker. He might worry that he won’t see his friends in class, that no one will like him or that he won’t be able to keep up with the work. He might worry about getting lost in between classes.

Middle school is a big adjustment for pre-teens. It opens up a whole new world. Middle schools are usually larger and integrate children from several different area schools. It involves new teachers and new experiences. For children with anxiety, the last days of elementary school can be scary. They are leaving possibly the only school they have ever known and venturing out into an unknown world.

What you can do

  • Talk to your child’s teacher to find out what information they shared with students about middle school. Some elementary schools take students on a field trip to the middle school to allow them to see it and walk around.

  • Contact the middle school to plan a day, after school has let out, to visit with your child. Ask if you can take the time to find the cafeteria, the bathrooms and the classrooms. Ask if you can have your child practice opening a locker. Many schools offer an orientation shortly before school begins, but if you can have your child visit the school early in the summer, it might relieve some of his anxiety.

  • Ask your child what fears he has. He might not be able to explain them fully, but let him know that you are there to listen.

  • Make plans for your child to spend time with friends over the summer. Anxiety can make you feel alone and isolated from others. Encourage your child to reach out to classmates and friends and engage in social activities throughout the summer.

  • Talk to your child’s guidance teacher before school is over to ask for additional resources to help ease your child into the transition to middle school.

Graduation anxiety

High school graduation is a milestone in your teen’s life but it is also filled with stress. The end of the school year, especially for teens with anxiety, is filled with fear, frustration and sadness. Your teen’s emotions might change from elation to fear in a matter of moments. Whether they are going to college, technical school or heading to the working world, they are heading out into the unknown. The safety of high school is gone.

For teens with anxiety, transitions are tough. They might be looking forward to leaving home and at the same time be terrified. They might worry that they won’t make new friends or that they will fall on their faces.

What you can do

  • Help your teen with preparing for the next life stage. Your child might be pushing you away but at the same time they want to know you are there.

  • Talk about the changes they should expect and come up with strategies for overcoming potential problems.

  • Don’t dismiss their concerns as unwarranted. For example, don’t say, “Of course you will make friends.” Instead, listen to their concerns and talk about what types of things will help your teen make new friends. You might want to say, “Yes, it is scary to go to a new place and not know anyone. Let’s see what clubs you could join or what activities you might like. Those would be good places to meet friends.”

  • Remind your teen that even if they aren’t living home, you are still her parent and are still there to offer support.

  • Make a list of resources. For example, if your teen is going to college, you could list the college health center, the counseling center and where on or near the campus she can get a prescription filled.

See more helpful articles:

10 Ways to Help Your Child Manage Their Anxiety

Signs and Warnings of Teen Anxiety in High School

Graduation Anxiety