Anxiety When Returning To School
Anxiety disorders are the most commonly occurring mental disorders in youth, with about 13% of youth aged 9-17 suffering from an anxiety disorder each year. Some children can experience intense anxiety when they go back to school or attend school for the first time. Will they know anyone at school? Who will be in their circle of friends? Will classes be too difficult?
For some children, the anxiety felt when they begin a new school year can become so severe that they become physically ill or they may refuse to attend school altogether.
To ensure some stability during this time of change, it is extremely important that parents are well informed about ways to reduce their child’s anxiety.
- Visit the school with your child. It is important to attend the orientation and meet your child’s teacher. Explain to the teacher that you are committed to your child’s education, and tell the teacher how you may be contacted if problems arise. It may also be helpful to spend some time with younger children on the playground to help them adjust to their new surroundings.
- Listen to your child’s feelings. Acknowledge feelings and let your child know that it is normal for kids to worry about school. Emphasize the positive aspects of starting a new school year such as seeing old friends, making new ones, learning new things, special trips, etc.
- Allow your child to develop problem-solving skills. You can’t predict every situation that could occur on the first few days of school. Don’t feel pressured to prepare your child for every possible scenario. In fact, letting your child think through how they can solve a problem on their own (for instance, when they can’t find their class) helps them develop confidence in their problem-solving abilities.
- Try to make Back to School shopping fun. Let your child know that it is important to you that he/she has the correct supplies, uniforms and clothes.
- Adjust your child’s bedtime schedule. If your child has gotten off the “early bedtime for school schedule,” start adjusting the bedtime gradually to an earlier time. Many kids need as many as 10 hours of sleep each night. To encourage your children to go to bed earlier, you can offer children a small reward such as stickers or some other token and after they have collected 5 tokens, they’ve earned an extra trip to the park, swimming pool, etc.
- Make the “getting ready time” a positive experience. To make the mornings less frantic, help your child get organized in the evenings by reminding them to choose clothes, find supplies, and complete homework assignments before bedtime. In addition, make sure your child eats a nutritious breakfast every morning.
- Identify your child’s specific needs. If your child has special needs, talk to the principal about getting a teacher who has experience with similar children. Be sure to make the teacher, counselor and other school personnel aware of any evaluations your child has had in the past.
- Develop a weekly transportation schedule. Writing out a schedule will help your child to be clear about schedule and transportation arrangements. Provide your child with alternative phone numbers in case the best-laid plans go awry.
- Remember its normal to have your own concerns about your child starting a new school. Even if you have your own anxieties, present a positive picture to your child. To relieve your own issues, you may want to schedule individual meetings with the principal or counselor to allay your fears.
- Keep things as routine and normal as possible. During this time of change, the certainty of routine can reduce the amount of anxiety that a child feels and help him/her to feel much more in control of the circumstances.