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How can I help my child cope with back-to-school anxiety?

Stacy Wiegman, PharmD
Pharmacy Specialist

The best way to help your child cope with back-to-school anxiety is by being available to listen to his fears and helping him to talk them through. With a younger child, for example, stress the exciting aspects of going back to school, like seeing his friends again and getting involved in after-school activities like sports and clubs. Be clear that going to school isn't negotiable, but then give him some choices related to school: For example, tell him he can pick out a new backpack or opt to bring his lunch to school rather than buy lunch in the cafeteria. If once school starts he doesn't settle in, make an appointment to talk to his teacher to see how he or she might help your child get comfortable in his new classroom.

There are several ways to help a child cope with back-to-school anxiety, beginning with normalizing it; this is a time of transition and change. If your child is struggling with back-to-school anxiety, it may be helpful to problem-solve with your child, helping him or her address any outstanding issues prior to the first day of school. Encourage your child to share his or her feelings, letting him or her know that you’re there to help. Role-playing can be a fantastic exercise that can assist your child in problem-solving and coming up with a plan for difficult situations. Getting back to a routine a week before school will benefit your child immensely and help ease back-to-school anxiety.

Dr. Tamar Chansky
Psychology Specialist

It's often little, fixable things that cause back-to-school anxiety, says psychologist Dr. Tamar Chansky, who specializes in anxiety. Watch the video to learn more—plus ways to help kids get excited about the new school year.

Dr. Darria Gillespie, MD
Emergency Medicine Specialist

It’s not unusual for some children to be anxious about leaving the comfort of home and going back to the school environment. As many as 5 percent of children may suffer from actual “school phobia,” however. They may complain of physical symptoms (headache, stomach ache) and refuse to go to school altogether. Usually the child himself cannot pinpoint that his stress is due to school, but the major triggers are problems with other children, anxiety over using a public toilet, bullies, fear of failure or anxiety about a teacher.

Here’s what you can do to help:

  • Talk with your child—it’s important not to minimize his fears, but to listen and discuss and be supportive.
  • When talking, ask who he sits with at lunch. Have him draw a picture of the playground, and ask where he plays and who plays with him.
  • If there are situations that you can resolve, such as bullying, talk about how you (parent) can help address them.
  • Help your child connect with his teacher. Talk to your child about his relationship with the teacher, and then meet with the teacher yourself.
  • Plan play-dates with other students, to help your child bond with other kids.
  • Before the school year starts, have a tour of the school with your child. This lets him explore the area at a stress-free time, and helps you get a mental image of the area so you can understand when talks about his day.
  • Discuss your child’s concerns with the school staff. For sure, he is not the first to be nervous about school!
  • Be firm that your child MUST go to school. If your child’s anxiety is such that it’s keeping him from school, also speak with your pediatrician to come up with a comprehensive plan in conjunction with school.
  • Check your library. There are lots of great age-appropriate books on this topic that can help kids deal with their feelings.
  • Also, consider whether after-school commitments are contributing to your child’s stress. How is he keeping up on his homework? Is he over-scheduled, and if so, can you remove one thing?
Dr. Jennifer Hartstein, PsyD
Psychology Specialist

Many kids get nervous before heading back to school, but you can help yours deal with anxiety by preparing her in advance. In this video, psychologist Dr. Jennifer Hartstein discusses things you can do to lessen your kid’s back-to-school stress.

Dr. Michele Borba
Psychology Specialist

Make sure you set aside time to chat with your child about his back to school anxiety. Convey that worries are normal—other kids have the same back to school anxiety pangs and they usually wade away in a few days. You might share your own back to school worries from "years" ago.

Here are a few tips when you're having those talks:

  • Don't trivialize the fear. Keep in mind that as much as your child's worries may seem unrealistic, they are real to him. So don't try to talk your child out of his concerns. Instead, thank him for sharing.
  • Find a book to help younger kids open up a dialogue. Read a book to help your child open up her feelings and learn others have similar fears.
  • Offer solutions for simpler problems. Here are a few solutions to common kid worries:

Younger child school worries and solutions:

  • "I won't remember the bus number." Solution: Write bus number on index card and pin it to inside of his backpack. Find out if your child's school has practice bus rides.
  • "I'll have an accident." Solution: Promise to show her the bathroom that is in the kindergarten.

Older kid school worries and solutions:

  • "I'll get lost: that middle school is so big!" Solution: Promise to walk the path with your child several times until he feels secure.
  • "The teacher doesn't know I'm allergic to peanuts." Solution: Show the child the notes you wrote to the nurse, secretary and teacher and explain how you will go to the school the date before school starts.
  • "I won't remember my locker combination." Solution: Have him write the combination on the inside of his backpack with a sharpie pen.
  • "What if I can't remember which class to go to and the assignments?" Solution: Help your tween pick out a small agenda or organizer book and paste the schedule in the front of the book.

Share "bigger worries" with the teacher. A parent's military deployment, a job loss, an illness, divorce or a traumatic experience with a bully are the types of issues that could impact your child's learning. Make an appointment to share the information with the counselor and teacher so they can offer support. You'll be much more effective in easing your child's stress by working together as a team.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.