5 Tips to Ease Back-to-School Anxiety
The transition back to class as summer ends can be a stressful time for children and parents alike. But anxiety symptoms that persist beyond the first few weeks of school and that seem excessive may require consultation with an expert, says Johns Hopkins Children’s Center psychologist Erika Chiappini, who specializes in the treatment of childhood anxiety and related disorders at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center.
“Parents or caregivers may notice their children exhibiting some nervousness about new routines, schoolwork or social interactions,” says Chiappini.
“Some of this is a normal part of back-to-school jitters that gradually diminish over a few weeks.”
There are several easy ways to tell when a child’s anxiety is cause for concern. Red flags that indicate a child’s anxiety is causing a great deal of distress include:
- Tantrums when separating from parents or caregivers to attend school
- Difficulty getting along with family members or friends
- Avoidance of normal activities in and outside of school
- Symptoms such as stomachaches, fatigue, difficulty sleeping alone
Tips to Ease Your Child’s Back-to-School Anxiety
- A week or two before school, start preparing children for the upcoming transition by resuming school-year routines, such as setting a realistic bedtime and selecting tomorrow’s clothes.
- Arrange play dates with one or more familiar peers before school starts. Research shows that the presence of a familiar peer during school transitions can improve children’s academic and emotional adjustment.
- Visit the school before the school year begins, rehearse the drop-off and spend time on the playground or inside the classroom if the building is open. Have your child practice walking into class while you wait outside or down the hall.
- Come up with a prize or a rewarding activity that the child could earn for separating from mom or dad to attend school.
- Validate the child’s worry by acknowledging that, like any new activity, starting school can be hard but soon becomes easy and fun.
When to Consider Consulting a Professional for Your Child’s Back-to-School Anxiety
“If after the first month or so, your child continues to show distress around school that is not improving or if the child’s symptoms are worsening, it may be time to seek an evaluation from a psychologist or psychiatrist,” Chiappini advises.
Consulting a mental health professional can help children and parents understand the child’s symptoms and work together on resolving them.
“There are several ways to address anxiety, such as with a particular type of therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT teaches the child and parent skills to address and confront anxiety,” Chiappini explains.
Your child’s practitioner may also recommend medication to address anxiety. “Medication, alone or in combination with therapy, is another option that can help to improve symptoms of anxiety and get kids back to their regular activities,” she says.