It’s that time of year again… the days of no alarm clock, sleeping in, and all summer activities have come to an end. Preparing to go back to school may be an exciting time for some parents and children, but it can also be a stressful and anxiety-provoking time for others. Starting back to school means transitions, routine, and structure, as well as new experiences and challenges both academically and socially.
As this can be a frightening and stressful time for children and teens, here are some signs to look for that may suggest they are struggling with back-to-school anxiety.
- Headaches and/or Stomachaches – Anxiety takes on many forms and often shows up physically. If your child or teen is constantly complaining of headaches/stomachaches, pay attention to these complaints and the times that they occur. This may be a sign that they are struggling with anxiety.
- Easily Frustrated/Crying – If you notice that your child is feeling overly emotional or is easily frustrated more than usual, this may be a sign that they are anxious about an upcoming change or transition.
- Withdrawal – Children may display withdrawal behavior during moments of anxiety due to the increase in symptoms of anxiety when around too many people. If you notice that your child or teen is spending too much time alone in their room or away from others, this may be a sign of anxiety.
- Heightened/Excessive Electronic Usage – Utilizing electronics such as a cellphone, tablet, computer, or gaming system is a way that children detach themselves from the stresses of the outside world. Kids who are dealing with anxiety may spend a large amount of time on electronic devices as a distraction from the stresses they may be facing.
If you have noticed any of these signs in your child or teen that suggest they are struggling with back-to-school anxiety, there are things you can do to help during this time of transition.
- Listen and Validate – The one thing children crave but have trouble expressing is the desire to be heard. Listen to them and validate their feelings. Try not to instantly fix the problem unless it needs a solution. A majority of the time, they just need to be heard by those that they love and need support from.
- Create Routine – Children/teens thrive on routine and structure. Summer is not typically as structured as the daily school routine is, and this is something that needs to be re-established before the start of school. Start setting bedtimes and morning rise times about two weeks before school in order to start getting your child back into that routine. This will help to ease the transition at the start of the school year.
- Independence/Control – Children/teens at times can feel that they are out of control of their own lives, but creating a sense of control and independence within them helps them deal better with anxiety. Small things such as letting them pick out their own back-to-school items (even if you hate that lunchbox) helps them feel more in control and independent.
The most important thing you can do for your child/teen who is struggling with back-to-school anxiety is to be their most valued support system and advocate. If you feel that you have done all that you can and your child is still struggling, reach out for professional help and advocate for them with school staff to ensure your child has a fulfilling start to the school year.