Does your kid have back-to-school jitters?
The start of a new school year after a summer break is full of school supplies, paperwork, and new lunch ideas. But with all the frenzy of back-to-school preparation, we as moms might forget that our children are having some anxiety about starting a new classroom, with new peers—they may even be starting a new school. We discussed this concern with Dr. Karen Stewart, a board-certified adult and child adolescent psychiatrist for Kaiser Permanente in Georgia and she gave us some tips on how we can help our children work through anxiety upon returning to school.
Be Aware That Going Back To School Is Stressful
One of the most important things parents can do is be aware that back-to-school anxiety is real and it exists and to be there for them to work through it. “Parents and caretakers play a critical role in helping children understand, manage, and overcome these worries,” Dr. Stewart explains to Momtastic via email, “Make sure your child knows it’s normal to be nervous.” It helps to get at the root of the problem. What is your child nervous about? Many times, this anxiety is about friendships: who’s in their class and whom they will eat with at lunch. If it’s possible, try to get them together with their peers before school starts.
Anticipate Your Child’s Needs
Children want to be reassured that nothing bad is going to happen. According to Dr. Stewart, it helps to discuss any worries and help your child problem-solve through them. “When they are part of the solution, children feel empowered and have more buy-in,” she says. Also, no one wants to think about it, but school violence is a growing concern among kids and parents. Getting a plan of action in place and having honest discussions about school shootings is important, and knowing that it’s actually a rare occurrence can lessen some of the anxiety.
Focus On The Positives
One of the ways parents can help their kids get excited about returning to school is to talk about the past positive experiences. What are their strengths? What talents do they have? Dr. Stewart recommends taking children with for school supply shopping and give them the opportunity to choose their own supplies. “When children feel included, they are more likely to embrace [the coming] changes,” she explains.
Get Back Into Your Routine
It’s a good idea to get into the school year routine a week or two before the start date. Getting the kids up earlier, going to bed at an earlier time, and starting to incorporate more structure can help ease the anxiety and make the transition run smoother. If your children are starting at a new school, see if you can take a tour. Dr. Stewart suggests visiting the classroom and locating areas like bathrooms and the cafeteria. It may also be beneficial to inform their teachers or school counselors if there’s a lot of anxiety. Many schools have peer mentors or buddies they can assign to help with the transition.
In the first week back, it’s crucial to offer lots of praise and reassurance that they’re doing great and things will get better. Organize backpacks and set out clothes the night before, especially for the first day of school. If your child is younger, it may help to bring a special object with them, according to Dr. Stewart. If your kids are older, an encouraging note in their lunch box can help make them feel better. “This is an opportunity to learn and practice resilience, making kids more adaptable to change, and better equipped to handle adverse experiences,” she explains.
Know When To Seek Help
Don’t let their anxiety go unchecked for too long. Some children have more anxiety than others, and poor sleep or eating habits, refusal to go to school, or emotional outbursts can all be signs that something is wrong, according to Dr. Stewart. Talk to your child’s teacher, school counselor, or pediatrician for their advice on how you can help your child get additional support.