Back-to-school time is upon us, as the first week draws to a close. After a long summer break, some kids may be a little bit nervous about being back in class. Perhaps your child faced stress due to academic struggles or bullying last year. Or maybe your little one just has general back-to-school jitters. Even good changes can be hard on kids. Most children will experience some anxiety coupled with excitement as they return to school. The good news is that no matter what is causing the anxiety, there are things you can do to help.
Christie Hayos is a social worker at the Hincks-Dellcrest Centre here in Toronto. The centre is a children’s mental health treatment, research and teaching facility. Each year, they help more than more than 8000 children and families through a combination of prevention, treatment, research, and education activities. She has suggestions for helping your little one deal with back-to-school anxiety.
Dealing with Back-to-School Anxiety
1. Understand Why Your Child is Feeling Anxious
If your child feels vaguely that “no one’s going to like me” or “I’m not smart enough”, he or she is likely experiencing general anxiety, rather than worrying about something specific. Validate your little one’s feelings by showing that you hear and understand them. Help your child remember positive experiences from last year, when things went well. On the other hand, if your child is remembering unresolved issues from last year, you’ll want to create an action plan to support your child as they head back-to-school.
2. Create an Action Plan for a Smooth Transition
If your little one has specific concerns about academic performance, bullying, or something else, create a clear plan. If you don’t already have one, start by sitting down with your child and thoroughly discussing any anxieties. Brainstorm what could have been done differently last year. Then, speak to the teacher or principal to create a plan. Once you have a plan, explain to your child how things can be different this school year. You may want to make arrangements for a different classroom, greater in-school support or new teacher. Explain to your child how people will be helping to make this year better, and tell your little one what to do if any problems arise. Emphasize that you will be there to help handle any situations that come up.
3. Know When to Get Help
It’s normal for it take a few weeks for children to settle in when they head back-to-school. If your child’s anxiety isn’t gradually decreasing after that time, however, or if the anxieties are causing disturbances in sleeping or eating patterns, or creating behavioural changes like clinginess, you may want to seek help. Start by talking to your child’s teacher, or consulting your family doctor or mental health provider. Help is out there, so that your child can overcome anxiety and have a successful school year.
For more tips on dealing with back-to-school anxiety, watch this video from the Hincks-Dellcrest Centre: Dealing with Back-to-School Anxiety.