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Back To School Anxiety – What Can Parents Do?

We are making our way through July, and the start of a new school year is quickly approaching! Transitioning into a new experience such as entering a new school year is a beautiful opportunity for your child to grow developmentally and expand their horizons. That being said, the idea of starting back at school is nerve-racking for just about everyone. As humans, we take comfort in consistency and so it is not uncommon for this avenue of life to bring out the excessive angst in students. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America shares that about 5-10% of the school-aged population will experience back to school anxiety and or school refusing behaviors. We know that this is challenging. As a parent, seeing your child suffer from anxiety may be just as taxing on you as it is on your child. Luckily, there are many techniques that you can practice to both, prevent as well as to work against school-related anxieties.

You must be wondering what exactly it is that makes students so anxious about the coming school year…. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America shares the common sparks for anxiety in school-aged children…

  1. TRANSITIONS: These transitions could be a change of schools, or even a transition of the -everyday summer mentality to that of a school day mentality… A transition has been seen to be an initial trigger of an anxious experience.
  2. EXPECTATIONS: As well as a transition of environment, transitions of expectations from one grade to another are also inevitable. Children may worry about the expectation of higher work output and development from teachers… “What if I fail?”
  3. NEW ENVIRONMENT: Whether transitioning to a new town, school, classroom, or teacher— a change in scenery has been seen to set the stage for anxiety.
  4. GREATER INDEPENDENCE: “I don’t want this responsibility yet” … Many kids feel overwhelmed at the thought of taking on new roles of independence and have been seen to seal or establish a capacity marker on the change in which they can endure.
  5. PAST ANXIETIES: History of anxieties and remembrance of these fears can cause a child to feel helpless. “Well I have felt this way before, I’m sure that it is coming again.”

A great place to start in working toward a happier return to school is being aware of your child’s temperament and personality. Take note if behaviors such as, refraining from activities or subjects that involve school occurs. If you notice a change that shows you that something is wrong, hold open communication with your child about your observations. When the dialogue begins to flow, your child can and most likely will feel a lessening in their stress (ADAA).  

Behavioral Examples of Back to School Anxiety (ADAA)

  • Resisting shopping for school items (clothes, books, backpack).
  • Avoiding conversation about the upcoming school year.
  • Evading spending time with people associated with school (school friends).

What’s the best way to end invasive anxieties about school?… Facing the problems head on! While it may be challenging for your child to face their fears, there are many tactics that you and your child can get started on this summer to ease your way into the coming school year.

John Hopkins University shares some tips to begin the acclimation process…

  • About two weeks before school begins, implement school year routines such as: going to bed earlier, waking up earlier, and picking out your clothes for the next day—easing back into routines.
  • Arrange for your child to spend time with those that they will encounter in school—promoting comradery within the transition “you are not alone!”
  • Go on visits to school, walk on the campus, and check out the rooms where your child will have classes—familiarizing new environments.
  • Brainstorm a prize system that your child could earn for separating from you to attend school—doing something that scares you is hard, I reward you for working hard!
  • Validate your child’s feelings—New experiences can feel really scary but working through issues helps us to grow.

Often times, getting into this rhythm will do the trick of bringing solace and encouraging your child to adjust to their new environment. In the event that your child’s experience may need a more extensive method, the therapists at GroundWork are here to help. We practice utilizing the highly regarded and researched therapy technique that is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT. Through evidence-based therapy, we help our clients to reconstruct their unhelpful thought processes (School is not for me / I can’t handle it) and turn it into a rational thought process (everyone gets nervous, but we’re all going to be alright).

It brings us great joy to be able to provide our clients with the necessary tools to work toward a happy and confident start back to school!

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