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Johns Hopkins Health - An A+ School Start

Summer 2016
Issue No. 33

An A+ School Start

Date: July 7, 2016

Three ways to help your child prep for (and beat!) the back-to-school blues, from a Johns Hopkins children’s center expert


Back to School

Some children handle back-to-school jitters smoothly, but others experience anxiety that can range from mild to debilitating. We asked Johns Hopkins expert Courtney Pierce Keeton, Ph.D., who specializes in the treatment of childhood anxiety at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, for help spotting—and dealing with— back-to-school anxiety.

How anxiety manifests

  • Elementary age: Your child’s distress may look like classic separation anxiety.
  • Middle schoolers: Anxiety often revolves around social issues (finding friends and fitting in), plus the changes in level of responsibility and academics.
  • High school: An older teen’s anxiety may also be social- and performance-related, though a high schooler may be less likely to share his or her feelings.

What to look for

While younger children show clear signs like tantrums or clinging, also be on the lookout—in all ages—for complaints of illness like stomachaches and headaches. A classic sign of back-to-school anxiety, says Keeton, is “avoidance behavior,” such as not wanting to participate in activities or conversations about school. Irritability, grumpiness and fatigue after school are also red flags.

How to help

  • Validate. Listen, empathize (even share your own anxiety stories) and remind them it’s normal to be anxious.
  • Stay positive. Take care you’re not inadvertently making the issue worse by asking if your child is nervous.
  • Help problem-solve. Is your child anxious about a new school? Arrange a visit. Worried about managing a locker? Buy a Master Lock® and practice.

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