Q. My child always feels anxious when it’s time to go back to school — and so do I. How do I help us both calm down?
A. Back-to-school anxiety is common for both kids and parents, especially when school is a struggle.
Some kids feel anxious about going back to school because of their experiences from the year before. (Parents can feel that way, too.) Some kids have social anxiety. They may worry about having a new teacher — or even about new kids in the class. And some kids feel anxious about having to sit still in class.
It’s also common for kids to have “jitters” or feel nervous about beginning something new. They may be thinking about what could happen in the new school year.
These feelings are often temporary. But in the meantime, they can affect the whole family. Parents can help by validating feelings and offering perspective. For example, “I know last year was hard. I can understand why you’re feeling nervous. But this is a new year and a new teacher. And we’re here to support you.”
Parents may feel nervous about school starting again, too. If you’re feeling a bit anxious, take a moment to think about your own time in school. Think about your interactions with teachers and peers. Take note of your thoughts and feelings.
Then think about the positive outcomes the new school year can bring. This will help you to lead by example when helping your child express their own thoughts and feelings.
If you find your anxiety is hard to manage on your own, consider talking to a friend or a counselor.
Planning ahead can also make it easier to feel less anxious. See if you can chat with your child’s teacher before the school year begins. Ask how you can work together to provide support in the classroom. If your child has an IEP or 504 plan, make sure it’s up to date. You and all your child’s teachers should have copies.
Finally, make going back to school a pleasant, positive event. Plan a big first-day breakfast. Talk about all the things your child is excited about, like seeing old friends, or getting to join a club they’re interested in. And, above all, let your child know that you’ll be there for them, every step of the way.
Anxiety that doesn’t go away or that makes it hard for someone to function could be a sign of something more serious. For example, a child might become so anxious that they have trouble going to school at all. Or a child may not be able to stop thinking about a negative experience from last year. If you notice that your child’s anxiety seems overwhelming, consider getting help from a professional.
About the author
About the author
Kristin J. Carothers, PhD is an expert in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and behavioral interventions. She also provides co-parenting therapy for families experiencing high conflict.