Helping Kids Deal with Back-to-School Anxiety

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Most kids have mixed feelings about returning to school, experiencing both fear and excitement at the same time. For some, however, the days before and after returning to school causes significant anxiety. The good news is that parents can help their children make the back-to-school experience less stressful. But according to mental health experts, it is crucial to act on time.

John Walker, a psychologist from the St. Boniface General Hospital in Winnipeg, Canada, told the Morning News that anxiety is quite common at all grade levels. He added that every 1 out of 10 kids is concerned about something to some extent. But he also said that the best time to deal with back-to-school anxiety is about 5 to 6 days before the beginning of school.

According to the Canadian mental health experts, parents can help their kids dramatically reduce back-to-school related stress by:

– establishing ‘school routine’ before the school starts; for example setting the sleep schedule
– visiting the school and teacher before the first day
– talking to the child about his/her feelings about going back to school, showing understanding for his/her concerns and letting the child know that it is OK to feel afraid and that other kids have fears about returning to school as well
– talking to the child about the positive aspects of going back to school; for example gaining new knowledge
– seeing classmates, etc.
– putting a toy, note or surprise from ‘mom and dad’ in the rucksack
– planning something special on the first day; for example cooking the child’s favorite meal or organizing a fun family activity in the afternoon
– encouraging the child to make decisions about things such as what to wear to school
– staying calm

Parents are also advised to keep in mind that anxiety is usually only temporary and that the stress lessens with each day at school. But if the child is still anxious after two weeks or if anxiety gets worse, it is time to act. The Canadian experts advise parents to talk to school personnel and Michael Southam-Gerow from the Department of Psychology of the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences agrees.

Southam-Gerow told the VCU News that school personnel often sees what parents don’t. This is due to the fact that they see dozens of kids each year which gives them a much deeper insight into children’s behavior and enables them to see the signs of emotional distress, anxiety, fear, etc. a lot sooner and easier than parents who interact only with a few children. However, he also advised parents not to rely exclusively on school personnel and their opinion. Southam-Gerow said parents shouldn’t hesitate to seek help if they think their child needs it regardless of the teacher’s opinion. He also urged parents to encourage their children to talk about their concerns and ‘prepare’ for school in advance if the child seems anxious.