Heading into the new school year may be exciting for some children, but for others, it may not feel so thrilling. Concerns about returning to school after summer vacation may be a source of anxiety and stress for your child. In fact, this back-to-school transition can be stressful for the entire family.
“Back-to-school anxiety is actually more common than you think. Anxiety is the fear of the unknown, and when you think about it, a new school year holds several unknowns for school-aged children and adolescents,” said Shykita E. Hill, a clinical social worker at Iredell Psychiatry.
There are several reasons your child may be having anxiety about returning to school. According to Hill, possible reasons for these anxious feelings may include fear of going to a new school, being in a new classroom, having a new teacher, making new friends, or being bullied. Anxiety could also stem from a lack of friends or not having the confidence to make new friends.
How do I know if my child is anxious about school?
Signs of anxiety may differ from child to child. No two children experience the exact same signs or symptoms.
However, according to Hill, some red flags that indicate your child has anxiety about school may include:
- Temper tantrums
- Not being easily comforted
- Refusing to go to school and crying
- Stomach aches
- Racing heartbeat
- Difficulty breathing
Be careful not to overlook your child’s upset stomach. If your child is complaining of stomach pain days or weeks leading up to their first day of class, it may be anxiety.
And, while a little bit of anxiety about returning to school is normal, you should always address their feelings and support them.
“Early detection can help make a difference in your child’s overall wellbeing and helps in developing a plan to treat the anxiety,” said Hill.
How can I help?
If your child is worried about the upcoming school year, Hill offers a few tips below to help your child cope with anxious feelings.
Children watch and learn from their parents’ actions, so it’s important to set an example and stay calm when your child is feeling anxious.
“Children pick up on adult emotions. If you are freaking out and anxious, your child will feed off of that,” said Hill.
Prepare your child for a successful year.
“Set your child up for a successful school year by being prepared and not having to rush the next day,” said Hill.
This could mean packing their lunch, picking out outfits, and organizing their backpack the night before.
“You should also make sure your child gets a good night’s rest and eats a balanced breakfast, which can be eaten at home or at school,” she said.
Make sure to communicate with your child and try to understand why they are feeling worried or anxious.
“You can start off by listening to how they feel and explore the cause of those feelings. Are there internal or external factors at play? After you determine those things, you can then help them develop a plan to deal with the anxiety,” said Hill.
You should let your child know you care about what they are experiencing and feeling. Remember, your support is important and can help them feel more comfortable.
“Talk through what they may be feeling and help them by role-playing or coming up with different solutions to all the scenarios they may have playing in their heads,” said Hill.
Recognizing and validating your child’s feelings is an integral part of helping them cope.
Visit the school.
If possible, visit the school with your child ahead of time or attend the open house. This way, your child will know what to expect and can see exactly where they will be going when school starts. Also, don’t forget to introduce your child to their new teacher.
“It’s also a good idea to do a ‘dry-run’ of what the first day of school will look like,” said Hill.
Try mindfulness exercises.
“Mindfulness is about being present in the moment and finding peace within yourself,” said Hill.
You can teach your child to practice mindfulness through breathing exercises, like focusing their attention on taking deep breaths.
If your child is still feeling anxious after several weeks of school, they may need a little extra help.
“If you notice that your child’s anxiety is not easily controlled, it is at a place where it is controlling their life, and their symptoms are persistent or worsening, it’s time to seek professional help,” said Hill.
You can seek help from a mental health professional or talk with your child’s primary care provider about their best option.
With the right type of treatment, therapy, and your support, your child will learn to manage their anxiety.
Shykita E. Hill, MSW, LCSW-A, is a new clinical social worker who practices at Iredell Psychiatry. To schedule an appointment with Hill or learn more about Iredell Psychiatry, please call the office at 704-380-3620.