While your child may be excited about the start of school, a teacher he or she was hoping for, or even the brand new pencils and notebooks in his or her backpack, plenty of students are not, in fact, eager about the return to school and the start of a new academic year.
That’s totally normal, too, says Lauren Pantoulis, a licensed clinical professional counselor (LCPC) who works with students in the Baltimore area.
“Let your child share their fears or concerns,” she wrote us after dropping her own child off at college. “Instead of telling them ‘not to worry’ or just empathizing with them, you should focus on problem solving. Often, anxiety comes from a fear of not knowing what to do, or not being in control and a plan will help empower them.”
To that end, establish a routine as early as possible and stick to it, she says. Involve children in back-to-school shopping and organizing. Familiarize your child with bus routes and school layouts. Take advantage of “sneak a peeks” and other school visits.
Finally, encourage your child to use the buddy system and pair up with other kids from their class or bus route.
One thing to avoid: “Parents need to resist the temptation to allow a distraught child to stay home from school, no matter how heartbreaking it is for you,” Pantoulis writes. “It only reinforces their feelings about school or their fear of separation and can make it even more difficult the next school day.”
Parents should be aware of their own concerns and anxiety, and develop a way to address them should any of the issues arise. Feeling a sense of control goes a long way to easing anxiety for adults, too, Pantoulis says.
“Children are very perceptive, and if they sense that you are worried, it may increase their own anxiety,” she says.
There are times when a parent has cause for worry, if, for example, a child’s anxiety continues for more than a few weeks or if the child refuses to go to school. Changes in behavior, such as frequent sadness or explosive behavior, also are causes for concern. Pantoulis recommends consulting a pediatrician or counselor in those situations.
Back-to-school anxiety is common at “all ages of childhood and adolescence.” But a lot can be done to make kids feel secure.
“When September comes around, I personally stick to many of these (pieces of advice),” Pantoulis says. “Even my teenagers are on an established routine including an appropriate bed time, packing lunches, and laying out outfits each night before school. This goes a long way to ease the chaos of returning to school and multiple after school activities.”