The transition from a familiar routine of summer break to the structured environment of school can create uncertainty and anxiety for many children. They might worry about their new teachers, classmates, schedules, and the challenges they will face academically and socially. However, you can support them during this transition. Here are five tips for helping alleviate back-to-school anxiety for students:
Discuss their Fears
A good start to easing a child’s back-to-school nerves is to give them the opportunity to voice specific fears. For example, ask what they are looking forward to as well as what makes them apprehensive about going back to school. Then empathize and acknowledge, rather than dismiss fears. Discuss ways to handle potential problems such as dealing with bullies, peer pressure, or other difficult situations. Role-playing may be helpful for younger kids. It’s important for children to know that they can turn to their parents and caregivers for support and having an open discussion about their fears will reinforce that supportive role.
New teachers, new friends, sometimes even a new school building can all add up to fear of the unknown. Most children need a sense of predictability and security to feel at ease, so the thought of a new school year can fill them with trepidation. However, you can remove some of your children’s fears by giving them a preview of what to expect. Take your student to their school and, if possible, walk through the halls, see the new classroom, and meet their teacher. Meeting neighborhood children who will be in the child’s class can also be helpful, so try to arrange a play date for younger kids.
Have Reasonable Expectations
Getting good grades is important, but a parent’s high expectations can lead to excessive student stress, which can have less than hoped for results. Instead of focusing on grades, emphasize the importance of learning and set short-term, achievable goals—like completing homework on time—at the beginning of the school year. Pediatrician William Sears cautions parents to “be realistic” with goals that are based on the child’s strengths. It may also be helpful to remind children that feeling comfortable in their new school setting will take time, they shouldn’t expect to make best friends and impress their teachers on the first day of school. And remember, feelings are not facts, so look for facts to counter their fears. If they worry they won’t make friends, remind them that they did make friends last year.
Commit to Healthy Living
Adequate sleep, proper nutrition, and exercise will help combat stress and strengthen a child’s ability to face his fears. Sleep deprivation will only make the anxiety seem worse, so it’s important to transition children to their new sleep schedule before the first day of school. A week or so before school starts, ease children back into the earlier schedule by having them go to bed 10 minutes earlier each night until the new bedtime is reached. Remember to enforce healthy eating habits and provide a nutritious breakfast, especially once school starts. Lastly, ensure children are exercising, preferably outside. According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise can “help reduce anxiety and improve mood,” with the added benefits of boosting self-confidence and providing distractions from worries.
Focus on the Positive
It’s easy for kids to let their fearful and negative thoughts about school cloud their outlook. Redirecting their thoughts to the positive aspects of the upcoming year will decrease their stress levels and improve their health. It also prevents them from dwelling on the negative. Remind them of their strengths and of the times they’ve overcome adversity in the past and how positive thinking can reduce stress.
It’s important for parents, caregivers, and teachers to be understanding and supportive of children experiencing back-to-school anxiety. Open communication, providing reassurance, and helping children develop coping strategies can go a long way in easing their anxiety and helping them transition more smoothly into the new school year.